The tennis racket reservation dispute (aka Brian Fallon @ Usher Hall, Edinburgh)

I always like to make a great drama out of taking my seat on the train.  Even if nobody is watching the scene as I unload my vast supply of travel companions into the small space before me, it gives me a tremendous sense of purpose.  On this particular morning, I was experiencing an exuberant rush of energy, which was supplemented by the session of yoga I had been able to get out of bed for, and the power walk to the train station I had been forced into when I once again mistimed my morning, despite living closer to the station than ever before.  I expect that my cheeks must have taken on the appearance of undercooked bacon with the physical effort exerted and from the frosty February air as I plonked my baggage onto the empty seat next to mine.  From the bag I extracted a silver flask which had been filled with approximately a cup and a half of coffee, an A3 notebook and a pen to record any observations I felt I had to make, a set of earphones, a Tupperware box which was packed with two bananas, two small oranges and some broken up pieces of rye crispbread, and an empty sandwich bag which would be used to discard of the loose peel.

I was feeling pleased with my organisation, and when the train pulled away from the pale platform and Pearl Jam was playing on my Spotify playlist, I opened up the Tupperware to eat the first of my bananas.  The oranges rolled out of position as I removed the greenish-yellow shape, and it took me a few attempts to snap each of the four latches on the sides of the lid back into place along the lip of the container.  Across the aisle of the carriage, I could see the young woman who was seated opposite me shudder with each failed attempt at securing the snacks.  Her face contorted into a soft fury as she glared at me from the corner of her eye.  I was beginning to feel anxious that the box would never be properly closed, that the woman with hair the colour of a late winter afternoon would erupt into a volcanic rage by the end of the journey, and that the crispbread would become soft and inedible.  Eventually, the lid was fastened safely into place, and the woman opposite me alighted from the train at its first stop in Connel. Commuters hardly ever get off at Connel, and I wondered if the woman had decided on a different mode of transport owing to my lack of tact with the Tupperware.

The snow-peaked fields on the west of Scotland had given way to an icy fog which was leaking profusely by the time I arrived in Edinburgh.  It seems that the city’s cobbled streets are always slick with rain, which really makes a person think when they are leaving a bar after wiling away a few loose hours in the afternoon.  As I was sitting in the corner of Brass Monkey reading the last couple of chapters of A Confederacy of Dunces, I studied a young university-type as she approached the bar.  She enquired to the barman who, according to the observations of native drinkers in the pub, had recently had a haircut, about the possibility of reserving space for seven members of The Fresh Air Society, who were due to meet at 7.45 the following evening.  I kept my head in my book, but my eyes were straining upward towards the young woman.  I found myself hoping that the society’s fledgling meeting would run late into the night and I could chance upon them after Brian Fallon’s performance at the Usher Hall, for the woman seemed to have a quality which I couldn’t quite describe.  She appeared to be a very new and welcome vision.

I was still thinking of The Fresh Air Society on the day of the show when I returned to Glasgow to meet with my two gig-going friends.  We arranged to assemble for drinks in The Ark, a bar which is close to Queen Street station and seemed reasonably priced.  I was the first of our trio to arrive, and although the place was remarkably busy for four o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon, I was able to find a table.  All of a sudden a great sound could be heard rattling against the roof of the building, like handfuls of gravel being tossed against the window of a lover to attract their attention.  I turned to look out into the beer garden, where hailstones were furiously lashing the canopies.  A sense of relief that I had made it into The Ark when I did flooded over me as I watched the hail continue to fall.

The girls were running later than planned following an incident where a loud-mouthed woman fell up a flight of stairs in a piercing studio, and I went up to the bar to order myself another drink.  I removed my black leather jacket and folded it over my stool to indicate that the table was occupied, giving the seat the appearance of a sloppily dressed child.  When I returned with a beer in hand, one of the other stools around my table had been furnished with a rucksack which had the handle of a tennis racket protruding from it.  Soon a young lady appeared and informed me that I was sitting at her table.  I told her, with great pride, that I had been sitting there since before the flood, and the look on her face implied that she didn’t know what I was talking about nor care for my sense of humour.  I lifted my buttock to show her the leather jacket I had used to mark my territory, an act which seemed to speak more honestly to her.  I apologised and claimed that if I had not been waiting for two other people I would have gotten up and given the table to the girl and her boyfriend, though I wasn’t sure if I was saying that to make her feel better or to absolve myself.

I could sense the cold stare of the couple from somewhere else in the dimly lit bar for the entire time I was sitting at the table by myself.  Even when the kaleidoscope of hair arrived and vindicated the story I had told, I felt unable to put my jacket back on, despite the increasing chill around the place.  It was the penance I had to pay to make it clear to all onlookers that my jacket was a legitimate placeholder.

After a series of drinks which increased in strength over the hours, from beer to wine to Jagerbombs, the three of us split a bottle of pink gin between three bottles of Sprite and took the train to Edinburgh.  We arrived at Usher Hall pleasingly intoxicated as Brian Fallon was taking to the stage, where the frontman of The Gaslight Anthem was performing a solo acoustic show.  His ninety-minute show spanned the majority of his career and was enjoyable, although some parts of the set left me feeling underwhelmed, like a steak dinner you have been looking forward to and it is only after eating it that you realise you have forgotten to cook the onion rings.

The night ended in Shakespeare’s, where the answer to the question was to beer, and we enjoyed a final drink before the girls with the spectacularly coloured hair caught the last train back to Glasgow.  The rain had stopped by the time I left the bar, though my black leather jacket was still wet and my stomach was in ropes.  My day had been riddled with an anxiety I couldn’t understand, and the walk along Princes Street to the hostel I was spending the night in took more than an hour, according to phone records.  By the time I had reached the other side of the city it was too late for me to venture to Brass Monkey as intended, and the chances are that no responsible bar person would have served me anyway.  It was a sorry end to the night, when all I had been looking for was a breath of fresh air.

The day I had a cold (aka The Gaslight Anthem playing ‘The ’59 Sound’ tenth-anniversary tour @ Barrowlands Ballroom, Glasgow)

I embarked upon the 12.11 ScotRail service to Glasgow and located my table seat close to the toilet, where I unloaded all of my travel essentials from my backpack onto the  green surface of the table which resembled a regurgitated avocado:  an A5 lined notebook, a black pen, two bacon rolls, three sachets of Nottingham’s finest export, four cans of Budweiser, a small flask with a finger of Jack Daniels, a pocket packet of tissues and a silver film of Paracetamol.

Despite having recently added an intake of effervescent multivitamins to my morning routine and having also eaten a third of a punnet of blueberries, a banana and two easy peeler oranges which had taken no fewer than five attempts to peel, I had been hit with my first cold since December 2017, and it happened on the day The Gaslight Anthem were performing the tenth anniversary tour of their ‘59 Sound album at the Barrowlands.

I folded myself into my seat and watched Oban slide slowly into the distance when another sneeze erupted from my nostrils, which by that point had taken on the distinct shade of a wind-battered rose.  I cursed my immune system and wondered if this was the sort of thing Alanis Morissette was alluding to.  A heavy sigh and a cough left my mouth at roughly the same time and I reached for the Paracetamol and drowned two of the tablets in a mouthful of whisky, unsure if I was trying to numb the nuisance of the cold symptoms or of everyday life.

By the time the train had wheezed into the village of Dalmally, I had downed most of the first can of Budweiser and my nose was streaming more quickly than an addictive Netflix series.  The alcohol had soaked into my system and I was feeling extremely drowsy and miserable.  Steal My Sunshine by Len played from my Spotify playlist, and even though the elderly woman sitting opposite me had spent much of the journey complaining of a cataract in each eye which meant that she was barely able to read her copy of the Daily Express, even with a magnifying glass which was larger than my hand, she could probably see that I wasn’t capable of finding the energy to drum along on my thigh.

I managed to stay awake all the way to Glasgow Queen Street, and when I checked into my room on the fifth floor of the Travelodge the first thing I did was to take another dosage of Paracetamol using the small, flimsy plastic cup they provide guests with, presumably for such emergencies.  Soon I was forced to confront the dilemma which seems to vex me more than most other issues:  whether or not I should wear my denim jacket out to go to the gig.  It wasn’t feeling especially balmy outdoors considering it was the middle of July, and my failing immune system seemed capable of convincing even the most ardent horologist that it was November.  However, in the back of my mind was the memory of many hot and sweaty nights seeing The Gaslight Anthem, and I decided that I would be better off leaving the jacket behind.

I pushed all of the most valuable possessions in my life into each of the four pockets of my black jeans:  a mobile phone with its ability to play music, a pair of earphones to listen to the music, a wallet which was thick with silver coins and as many tissues as a person can reasonably carry.  The weight pushed my jeans – which were already sitting quite loosely – down past the waistband of my boxer shorts, and I worried that it might look to others as though I was making some vain attempt at a youthful statement of fashion, even though it was clear that I simply don’t have the buttocks for such a thing.

At The Raven, where I would enjoy a pint of Caesar Augustus, I was beaten to the bar by a short red-haired girl who proceeded to tell the barmaid in a softly whimsical tone that I should be served first.  This friendly act didn’t sit well with me, and when the barmaid floated across the floor to my side of the bar I insisted that the short red-haired girl had arrived before me and should be served instead.  The barmaid returned to where she had once been standing and thanked both of us for our honesty as she poured a schooner of ruby coloured ale for the diminutive redhead.  I made some stupid remark which drew laughter from both of the ladies, all the while my internal narrator was telling me that despite making a chivalrous gesture and doing the socially correct thing of ensuring that the person who was first in line was served their drink before me, I was actually a dick because the short red-haired girl had made the move first.

After drinking my ill-gotten pint of hybrid lager and IPA, I strolled down the Gallowgate to Saint Luke’s, which is a relatively new bar that has been restored from an old church, although people still go there seeking salvation and hiding from the problems of real-life with the assistance of a spirit.

I met with the girl with candyfloss pink hair and her friend who had the most bold and brilliant pink hair which looked almost like an explosion of raspberries.  I felt a little out of place with my boring and balding salt and pepper hair which was slicked over to the side, but we engaged in a round system anyway and I ordered a Tennents and a Jameson in an effort to give my cold a good kicking before the Gaslight Anthem show.

Most of the tables in the bar had been reserved by smart people who had planned ahead for the occasion, leaving the only seating available at tables which were so high that a compass was needed to reach the summit.  The Irish whiskey worked in drying out my nose and all of a sudden the pocketful of tissues that I was carrying had become redundant.  We ordered a round of Jägerbombs, having decided at six o’clock that eating any kind of food would be futile, and the shot glasses were placed carefully inside a glass with an exceptionally wide rim which made it almost impossible to down both the Jägermeister and the Red Bull without a good quantity of the drink spilling onto my shirt.

In Bar 67, a pub I had never visited despite being a frequent attendee at Celtic Park over the previous two years, the Jägerbombs were served in regular glasses which made it easier to drink the entire quantity of alcohol as well as energy drink.  My drowsiness was disappearing to an extent where I was once again beginning to feel human, if not dancer.  An older gentleman arrived carrying a small bundle of magazines which he quickly tried to convince us would be a good idea to buy.  His sales pitch involved an explanation of how the magazine he was selling raises money for the homeless and is a contemporary adult competitor of The Big Issue.  He continued, insisting that he had received complaints that some of the content of the magazine was misogynistic and anti-Semitic, but that he didn’t know what either of those terms meant.  I couldn’t decide whether he was pushing was some kind of elaborate scheme or if he was being genuine.

As we were entering the Barrowlands Ballroom, which is directly across the road from Bar 67 and was the venue of the first gig I ever attended in November of 2003, I could feel myself becoming anxious as it became clear that I was going to be subjected to a pat down.  I felt concerned that I would be forced to explain the excessive quantity of tissues in the front left pocket of my jeans and why a thirty-four-year-old man was wearing jeans below the waistband of his boxer shorts anyway.  The girl with the candyfloss pink hair handed me my ticket and I watched as the man in front of me was fondled around the pocket area without any issue and I knew that I would be next.  I strode forward towards the man in the high visibility jacket with a Jägermeister confidence which I hoped would mask the fear I had over the pocket which was bulging conspicuously with tissue paper.  The man’s hands danced over my body and I could only hope that he was finding the entire experience as awkward as I was.  He didn’t pass comment on the tissues and we were all free to enjoy the night ahead.

We ordered a round of doubles between the end of Dave Hause’s supporting set and the beginning of The Gaslight Anthem’s in the hope that they would last, but my Jack Daniels was finished by the time the lights went down at around 9.15pm.  There are not many feelings more euphoric than those few moments after the room goes dark and you know that your favourite band is about to come on stage.  The Gaslight Anthem began with a blistering version of Handwritten, and it wasn’t very long into the opening song of the set when my glasses were sent flying from my face somewhere into the blurry distance in front of me.

I could hardly see a thing and I was utterly panic-stricken.  I had no idea how I was going to find my glasses amongst the mass of people who were standing around six or seven rows deep in front of us.  How would I enjoy the rest of the gig when I couldn’t even see my own pink nose, let alone the band I had been waiting years to see again?  How would I find my way back to my hotel, or even be able to get a new pair of glasses in the morning?  It was the worst thing that could have happened to me.

I nudged the person who was standing next to me to alert them to the fact that I had lost my glasses, but I didn’t know what I was expecting a complete stranger shrouded in darkness to do about it.  Could she get the band to stop playing rock and roll songs and have the house lights turned up so that everyone could look around their feet for my stray spectacles?  I conceded that she couldn’t, and that even if I could see the stewards they would likely be too far away for me to attract their attention, so I squatted onto the sticky floor of the Barrowlands and desperately fished my hand through rivers of beer and amongst a dark forest of legs and crushed plastic cups.  Somehow, miraculously, I was able to put my fingers on the extended leg of my glasses and I retrieved them, unscathed, from the floor. It might have been the best feeling I have ever felt.

The ‘59 Sound is a joyous portrait of youthful exuberance, of heartache, of wild summer adventure and of hope and glory and love and everything else, and this gig was too.  I found myself frequently locking arms with bouncing sweaty strangers, my own blue and black flannel shirt clinging to my hot body like foil around a jacket potato, and my black jeans melted to my flesh. My hair was drenched – utterly soaked – with sweat, as though I had just walked out of the shower and decided not to use a towel because the wet look is in vogue.  It was a cathartic release and I sang myself hoarse.

Nice n’ Sleazy’s seemed like a very long way from the Barrowlands when the gig finished at sometime around eleven o’clock, but it is one of my favourite bars in the city and they had been promising the best offering of music after the Gaslight Anthem performance.  I weaved my way through the maze of the city centre, with all of the demolition work which had been going on around Sauchiehall Street meaning that much of it was closed off and alternative routes had to be taken.  I had my music for company and after some time I managed to find what I was looking for.  I stepped casually towards the doorway, where I was confronted by two large bouncers who had the appearance of men who had never known amusement.

“Are you alright?”  The least amused of the two men asked, and I was baffled by this sudden interest in my wellbeing from a total stranger.  I assured him that I was well, having forgotten all about the rogue cold which had befallen me earlier in the day.

“Where have you been tonight?”  He continued, his tone taking on an increasingly interrogatory nature.

“Just the Gaslight Anthem gig at the Barras,” I said excitedly, wondering if he was going to engage me in conversation about the finer points of punk rock.  Instead, he viewed me with suspicion, his demeanour becoming no more amused.

“Go easy in there tonight, pal,” he eventually relented as he opened the door and invited me to step inside the bar.

I ordered a Jack Daniels and coke and stood at the dim end of a quieter than expected bar, and it suddenly struck me that with all the Paracetamol I had taken earlier in the day and all of the beer and whisky and Jägermeister I had drunk over the course of the night and with my sweat-soaked head and disgusting shirt that maybe the bouncer had seen me as a figure of distress.  As I pondered this a young woman arrived next to me and she was holding a smartphone which was open on the Google Maps app.  She leaned across a pile of free magazines which were sitting on the bar between us and asked me if I knew how to find Mango.  I had never heard of the bar but could see from the flashing icons on her map that it was close to Nice n’ Sleazy’s.  I explained to her that with the various works going on around Sauchiehall Street it might be more difficult than normal to find Mango, at which point it occurred to me that I could make a really great pun about the difficulty of finding a good mango.  The words had barely left my mouth when the dislocated stranger left and rejoined her friend at their table.

I had one more Jack Daniels and coke before retiring to my bedroom on the fifth floor of the Travelodge hotel.  I undressed and sunk into the cotton sheets but was still so exceptionally warm that I soon kicked them away.  I woke up in the morning, dazed and hung over, and sneezed.  Not once or twice, but three or four times. I reached over to the bedside table for my glasses and affixed them to my face and nothing else really seemed to matter.

This post was first published on 25 July 2018. The original can be viewed by clicking here.

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A weekend of failed flirtations and unexpected bonding (aka U2 @ Croke Park, Dublin)


When you are standing in Croke Park and the lights go down, at least as much as they can go down at an outdoor show in the middle of summer, and you’re suddenly hearing Sunday Bloody Sunday followed by New Year’s Day on a Saturday night in July, you are entitled to ask yourself:  is this some kind of U2 concert?  And, of course, it was.  

The opportunity to see one of the world’s greatest rock bands perform one of music’s most iconic albums – The Joshua Tree – in their home city on the 30th anniversary of its release was too good to pass up, and it was an excellent reason to make my second trip to the city of Dublin; a journey which proved to be both one of the feet and the mind.

One of the best ways, though not necessarily the only way, of getting from Oban to Dublin is to travel first to Glasgow, and it was here that I stayed overnight on the Friday prior to the gig.  The stayover enabled me to enjoy a few craft beer refreshments at the Hippo Taproom, which became one of my favourite bars in the city when I visited months earlier.  I quickly learned on that first occasion that it is not advisable to enter the Hippo Taproom in the expectation, or at least with the faint hope which I had on that initial evening, of being served your IPA or chocolate porter by a hippopotamus.  Because even though the name almost definitely suggests that you might encounter a hippo for a bartender, you will only find yourself bitterly disappointed.  Besides, when you really think about it, how could a hippopotamus pour a schooner of beer with those massive clumsy paws?  It would result in far too much leakage for any business to remain sustainable and the cleaning would be a nightmare.

As I was sipping on a pint of milk chocolate stout which had been poured by a barman with a beard, once again recalibrating my expectations, I became the subject of the attention of a silver-haired gentleman who looked to be enjoying a few after work beers with a couple of colleagues.  The group was standing over my left shoulder, and this one guy who was less of a silver fox and more of a weather-beaten cherub, took a step towards me and asked how I decide which beer I am going to drink out of the many taps on offer in a bar which is focussed on selling craft beer.  I wasn’t sure if he was under the misguided impression that I am some kind of expert of the hops, or whether he could see that I am a man who has enjoyed a few beers in my life.  The silver-haired cherub told me that the reason he was asking was that he finds most IPA’s too bitter and acidic to enjoy, and I responded with a series of words which fell from my mouth with no particular reasoning or meaning.  

Our conversation moved on beyond beer, as most of them do at some point, and it was when he took it upon himself to tell me that he is 52-years-old that I began to realise that there was a chance this man was flirting with me.  When he proceeded to speculate that I “must be early forties” I recognised that, if he was flirting with me, his technique of seduction is worse than my own.  Once I corrected him and pointed out that I am actually thirty-three years a man he attempted to make amends for his flawed flirtation by touching my arm and suggesting that his mistake was an easy one to make when I speak with the eloquence and wisdom of a man in his forties, which he certainly would not be saying if he knew me.  

Some minutes passed and the first man to have ever hit on me in a bar left with his colleagues to catch the last train to Edinburgh.  I ordered some pistachio nuts at the bar and contemplated if, in the scenario I had just experienced, I was the nut or the shell.


Despite my libations the previous evening I made it to Glasgow Airport in good time on Saturday morning.  Whereas I frequently arrive at railway stations with barely minutes to spare before the train departs, I always get to the airport much too early.  There have been two occasions in my life where this has not been the case:  the time I was so hung over that I couldn’t possibly make it to London Gatwick and consequently had to spend more than £100 on a single train fare to Glasgow, and the Monday morning of this trip, when I was so hung over that I arrived at Dublin Airport with around fifteen minutes to spare.

There is part of me that thinks there is an over-emphasis put on the need to be at the airport hours before your flight to allow time to go through security.  I feel this deceit is probably concocted by Starbucks – and probably other retail operations – because what else is a traveller going to do when they have cleared security and have two hours to idle away in an airport other than spend £5 on a coffee from a man who adds four letters to your two letter name?

The moment I received my styrofoam cup of froth addressed to Jay-Jay (always with a hyphen) wasn’t the most awkward of the air travel experience for me, however.  It was far more uncomfortable trying to decide whether to start a conversation with the woman sitting next to me on the plane.  I am not at ease opening a discussion with a stranger at the best of times, but I find silence equally as unsettling.  Others appear to be terrific at talking to new people, even the weather-beaten cherub in the Hippo Taproom, but I have to deliberate over it if I do it at all.  

As the air stewardesses were going through the onboard safety procedures, I was finding myself increasingly drawn to the passenger who was seated to my left.  I couldn’t turn to get a good look at her face, but I could tell by her presence that she was one for me.  The stewardess was a few feet away, gesturing towards the emergency exits, when all I could think about was the question of how other people begin a conversation with a stranger on a plane.  I surely couldn’t ask this woman beside me where she is going, because unless one of us had made a hugely unfortunate mistake or there has been a serious breakdown in the process of boarding passengers it should be fairly obvious where she’s going.  

So I was sitting there anxiously processing in my mind the various possible outcomes of talking to this unknown woman:  falling in love with her, making a terrible play on words that ensures the rest of the flight is more awkward than it would have been if we had sat in silence, discovering that she is a serial killer on the run from the law, finding out that she had a deeply disappointing night in the Hippo Taproom when she learned that her beer wouldn’t be poured by a hippopotamus.  Eventually, I came to realise that so much time had passed that it would likely just be weird for me to speak to her thirty minutes into the short flight, and so I suddenly developed a fascination I never knew that I had with looking at clouds and nondescript land mass from above.


Dublin is a city of many bridges – 23 if you’re keeping score or don’t have access to Google – but on Saturday it appeared there was only one place people were going.  Nobody mentioned it by name, almost as though they were trying to keep it secret, and I don’t think that I heard the name U2 spoken the entire day.  Instead folk would simply refer to “the concert.”  “Are you going to the concert?”  They would ask.  “It’s busy with the concert on tonight,” it was said.  There were U2 t-shirts everywhere.  Mostly the black Joshua Tree anniversary tour novelty shirts, but there were some men who wanted to show that they were of a certain vintage by proclaiming their love of War or the Vertigo 360 tour through sartorial selection.

There was one place in Dublin where the concert wasn’t a consideration, though.  Across the River Liffey in J. W. Sweetman craft brewery, a tall building which was painted a creamy white like the smooth head of a pint of Guinness and which was dressed with a number of hanging baskets blooming with an assortment of colourful flowers, there were groups of people gathered together watching the hurling whilst a riotous hen party was competing with the sounds of whooping and cheering.  The hens were most definitely from Liverpool and some ordered pints of Guinness, which seemed like an especially bad idea at four o’clock in the afternoon.  Some chose to dilute their Guinness with blackcurrant juice, which seemed like an even worse idea and immediately caused me to dislike them.  

In my position at the bar, I ended up with two hens, one at either side of me, possibly due to congestion but probably down to poor organisation.  They were talking loudly across me and my pint of Barrelhead IPA, and the sound of their Scouse screeching was still nesting in my eardrum like a small startled bird which has gotten itself stuck in a chimney stack and is still too afraid to leave after two days. 

The hens became concerned with the gaelic sport which was playing on the television screens above the bar.  One of them asked me, “why are they playing lacrosse?”  

In my mind my face had been planted firmly in my palm, but as I couldn’t actually conjure an image of what lacrosse looks like I didn’t feel confident in disputing this assumption.  “I think they call it hurling over here, and they’re probably playing it to determine which is the better team.”

“Oh,” replied the hen with a faint hum.  “It looks like it would hurt.”  I nodded in agreement with this observation, as it did look like hurling could be quite painful.  The hens took their pints of cloudy Guinness and rejoined the rest of their flock in taking photographs with large novelty inflatables.  The barmaid remarked that I would be featuring in all of the pictures the women were taking.  I told her that they would be appalled to find that in the morning and confided in her that while the situation of being surrounded by a large hen party would be the stuff of dreams for many men, I was finding it utterly terrifying.  She laughed wildly, presumably out of an acknowledgment of my ineptitude.


I hadn’t really researched how I was going to get to Croke Park, believing that I probably wouldn’t be the only person attending the concert and so shouldn’t have any trouble finding the stadium.  Even still, after four or five pints of beer it wouldn’t usually be advisable to blindly follow a large group of people in the hope that they are going to the same place you are.  It worked out for me on this occasion, and the whole thing felt like a procession of sorts.  Thousands of people in uniform marching slowly, if not solemnly, towards the same place with a single goal in mind.  The sky was blue, like in the U2 song Bullet The Blue Sky, though a quartet of raindrops splashed my face as I lined to enter Croker, lending to a fear that my decision to leave my jacket back in my hotel would prove to be foolish.  Fortunately, there was no rain to follow and the only wetness I came to experience was from the sorely overpriced bottles of Carlsberg on offer pitchside.

Prior to the concert, I had given a lot of consideration to the question of tactical use of the toilets.  Urination is not always easy to predict in ordinary circumstances, but I have found that I can generally get a feel for when it is going to happen.  One of the downsides of drinking beer – or any form of liquid, I suppose – is that the need to expel urine is bound to increase in line with the quantities which are taken.  So when you are drinking bottles of beer at a concert, even terrible beer like Carlsberg, you are going to need to get rid of that shit at some point, and usually at several points.  I had developed a dire fear that I would find myself in desperate need of relief just as U2 were about to launch into the rarely played Red Hill Mining Town, so I had forensically planned my toilet breaks and was hoping for the best.  

My strategy after going from, and going at, J. W. Sweetman was to make immediate use of the facilities at Croke Park and then pee again around the halfway point between Noel Gallagher finishing his set and Paul Hewson and the lads taking to the stage.   Naturally, I wasn’t needing to use the toilet at that moment.  Only an hour or so had passed and not enough beer was requiring to pass through me when I strode up to that urinal with a mask of confidence.  I was standing there hoping for something to happen.  Anything.  I just wanted a drop to trickle from me, enough to justify my strategy.  But I was met with the same sound of awkward silence that I had experienced earlier in the day on the plane.  

After a few moments but no urine had passed, the guy to my left spoke to me, his thick Irish brogue distracting me from the task at hand.  I can never remember what his opening line was, but I recall admiring his ability to start a conversation over the urinal at a U2 concert when I had struggled with the issue on an airplane.  The Irishman noted that I was a fellow ‘shy pisser’ and we bonded, although I couldn’t be sure if I was a ‘shy pisser’ or just had terrible timing.   He expressed sympathy for the men who were waiting in line behind us, acknowledging that they were likely cursing us and the refusal of our genitals to perform their natural function.  I said that what I was finding especially frustrating about the situation was the sound of urine cascading from every man to our right, as if mocking us.  How do they do it?  How can they walk up to this urinal and just piss like there’s nothing to it?  It felt like we were there for at least twelve minutes exchanging tips on how to convince our bodies to pee in pressurised social situations and discussing the strategic need to urinate at this moment rather than when The Edge would be belting out those glorious opening chords from Where The Streets Have No Name minutes from now.  

Then it happened.  That wonderous thing of wastewater trickling from my system.  I apologised and left.  It was the first time I had ever been sorry for peeing, and certainly the only time I have ever felt comfortable and relaxed whilst talking to a fellow-man with my penis in my hand.


The U2 show was a triumph.  It is difficult to recall such peace and love and harmony at a gig and the set was worked perfectly around The Joshua Tree.  I can’t compare it to the Innocence + Experience tour two years earlier.  That is still my favourite gig experience, but there was something very special about seeing the band in their hometown and to be in the place that moulded these songs.  You know that with U2 you are going to get a visual and musical experience that no other act in rock can provide, to the extent that when an aircraft flyover painted the sky with the colours of the Irish tricolour it somehow felt understated.


I wasn’t entirely sure how to spend a Sunday in Dublin without U2, but as it turns out U2 has a way of finding you in Dublin.  After spending an afternoon taking the enjoyable tour at the Irish Rock ‘N’ Roll Museum – which obviously is laden with artifacts related to Bono, The Edge + Friends – I embarked on the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, which was something I had greatly looked forward to after my experience of the New York City version the year, despite having a limited knowledge of Irish literature.  As it turned out I had been drinking beer since one o’clock on Sunday afternoon, so when the literary tour began at 7.30pm I was in little mood for enlightenment and had greater interest in the pub crawl aspect of the event.  As individual groups of people began to assemble upstairs in the Duke pub on Duke Street two things became evident:  almost everybody on the tour was both older than I am, and American, and I was the only solo attendee.  

I remained unperturbed, however, and continued to nurse the Jameson’s on ice with a slice of lemon which I was becoming fond of.  Straight whiskey isn’t something I normally abide.  I am typically a lover of Jack Daniels and coke, but someone who should know about these things had recently advised me that whiskey is best consumed sour and without sugar, and this trip to Dublin convinced me of the merits of that argument.  The only trouble with my enjoyment of this tonic – other than a single measure proving to be so small that I soon decided to double up – was that I found myself drinking a lot of it.  And more frequent visits to the bar resulted in my wallet becoming choked with coins due to my inability to tell the separate pieces of currency apart by sight.  I was always finding it easier to hand over another pink note rather than force a barmaid to watch me attempt drunken mental arithmetic as I fished around the coins in my wallet for the correct change.  

Back at Duke Street, when my wallet was still relatively light, I spied that three of the American visitors were female and approximately of my age, if not younger.  One of the ladies caught my eye in the sense of being physically attractive to me, but in reality, all three were pretty pleasant in comparison to how I must have appeared to them.  I made it my goal that by the time we reached the next bar on the tour I would have imbued myself into their company, like a slice of lemon in a glass of Jameson.  After a stop at Trinity College where we discussed Oscar Wilde, we walked to a pub the name of which would completely escape my memory by the end of the night.  This bar had multiple rooms and the group dispersed to explore the different floors; I simply wanted to drink Jameson.  As I stood at the bar watching the barman inexplicably pour a single shot of whiskey into a large glass I became aware of the fact that the American who appeared physically attractive to me was standing beside me waiting to be served.  This was my opportunity.  

The question might be asked:  how could I possibly talk to this attractive American woman at a bar when I couldn’t bring myself to open a conversation with a woman on a plane?  But I could, for two reasons.  I was still in admiration of the confidence of the shy pisser the previous day, and I was drunk.  So I feigned ignorance and asked her if she was on the literary pub crawl.  It was an abysmal opening line, but it was better than nothing at all.  Within a few brief lines of conversation, I had learned that she and her friends were from Boston, at which point I speculated that she must have a little Irish in her.  It was another poor line, particularly when I am not even Irish, but it didn’t prevent the American from revealing that one of her friends had also attended the U2 concert the night before.  She wasn’t a particularly good conversationalist, but by the time we reached the next bar on the crawl, it didn’t matter.


I drank another two double Jameson’s at the third bar on the route.  Its name would also remain nameless in my mind by the end of the night, although it was the subject of a quiz question at the conclusion of the quiz when we learned that its former name was ‘The Monico’.  The Americans sat at the far end of the bar and didn’t acknowledge me and I didn’t feel any haste in wanting to talk to the poor conversationalist again.  So I drank my whiskey and waited for the cowbell that would signal the end of our allotted twenty minutes in this particular bar.  As I rose to my feet and left at the sound of the ringing of the bell one of the Americans asked me if I was the Scot who had been at the U2 concert the previous night.  I looked around and was fairly sure in deducing that she couldn’t have been talking to anyone else, so I engaged with her.  

We talked all the way to the next and final bar on the tour, Brendan Behan’s.  We made a pact that seeing as we had a limited grasp of what was actually happening, literature wise, on the tour we would not take the end of tour quiz seriously and instead offer joke answers to the questions in the hope of winning the booby prize of a miniature bottle of whiskey, as opposed to the star prize of a t-shirt.  Unfortunately she betrayed me and answered a question seriously, though I maintained her favour by insisting that Oscar Wilde excelled at ten pin bowling and Bono was one of only four Irish men to be nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature (that wasn’t so much of a joke answer as Bono was nominated for the Man of the Peace prize in 2008.)

By the end of the tour, I was invited by the three Bostonians to sit with them and join them for a drink.  We discussed U2, a little, at least, how it might feel to discover that you have inadvertently turned up for dinner at the home of a couple of swingers, the Claddagh ring which the American I was most enjoying talking to was wearing and the Scottish accent.  I walked them back to their hotel, which was far, far away from where I was going, via a stop at the statue of Oscar Wilde, which one of the Americans had to climb over a locked gate to get a photograph with.  On the way to their hotel, the American with the Claddagh ring who attended the U2 concert and I walked several paces behind the other two Americans, talking nonsense and making each other laugh.  She gave me a guided tour of Dublin whilst putting on the worst Irish accent I have ever heard, and we both discovered the only bar in the whole of Dublin which sells Guinness.  Even though I had no idea where I was it was the finest walk I have taken.

As we reached their hotel in the middle of nowhere in Dublin 2 I suggested to the American with the Claddagh ring that we take in a drink together at a nearby bar.  She seemed enthusiastic and tried to convince her friends that one more drink wouldn’t be a terrible idea, but they were travelling to Belfast by bus the next morning and she ultimately convinced by her far too sensible companions that it would in fact be a terrible idea.  It was just another example of the north taking from the south of Ireland, yet this failed flirtation didn’t seem quite as bad as some of the others experienced over the weekend.  Instead I walked a few feet to another nameless bar and indulged myself in a few more double Jameson’s on ice with a slice of lemon as I contemplated the night and the weekend I had just been a part of, which truly was a terrible idea on account of the fact that I reached the airport with around fifteen minutes to spare the next morning.

This post was originally published on 24 July 2017 and can be viewed in its original form here

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A lion’s roar (aka First Aid Kit @ Perth Concert Hall, Perth)

It had been eight days since a woman at the bar called me a geek, and when I boarded the morning train to Glasgow, destined ultimately for Perth, I was still unable to get the incident out of my mind.  I could not be entirely certain over how the situation arose in the first place, but I could clearly recall the educated and voluptuous brunette speaking of her surname, which sounded elegant and born of the middle ages, and remarking something along the lines of:  “Of course, you’ll know where that name comes from.  You look like a geek.”

I remember that I nodded my head in agreement with the first part of the woman’s statement, in exactly the way I do whenever I haven’t fully heard what a person has said to me but don’t want to appear impolite by asking them to repeat the vital piece of information they were attempting to communicate.  I also agreed with her observation that I looked like a geek, and it ranked amongst the nicest things I have ever been told in Aulay’s, and probably in my adult life.

As the days passed my internal monologue became increasingly involved in a fervent debate with itself over whether the word ‘geek’ was used by the woman with the old-fashioned name as a compliment or in an intended insult.  Was she commenting on my carefully crafted outfit with its silver tie, pocket square, and socks triumvirate, or on the fact that I had an awkward nature which meant that I was avoiding making eye contact with her in the way that a lamb instinctively avoids walking into a wolf’s den?

On the train, I was hoping to catch up on some much-needed sleep.  I had thought when I went out on Friday night that I could live a Keith Richards lifestyle, but by Saturday morning I felt like I was a Morphy Richards kitchen appliance – I was blowing steam.  Knowing that I had an early train to catch, my intention was to enjoy a few sensible drinks with the plant doctor and go home earlier than I normally would, but at one thirty in the morning I was having Jameson bought for me by a man who was wearing pink trousers and who earlier in the day had scattered the ashes of both of his parents on the island of Lismore.

When I first arrived at the bar I viewed the man as a foolish figure of fun.  He was sitting at a table in the corner of the room, his trousers were as pink as the cheek of a newborn baby, and his navy blue jumper was holding a belly so large that it looked like it had been drawn onto him.  The company he was with, presumably strangers he had become involved in conversation with, left, and he got up to refresh his drink. I was standing at the bar alone, and as the man waited to be served we exchanged complimentary words on each other’s outfits.  He confided in me that his parents had recently passed away within a short period of time of one another, and I expressed sympathy for his loss. He thanked me and commented that it is rare for another person to be so nice, which struck me as being odd, as I thought I was only saying what anybody in my position would have said.  When the man with the pink trousers bought me a whisky, I began to feel remorse for my original observation when I walked into the bar, and we spent the rest of the night discussing death and Brexit, and it was difficult to tell where one subject ended and the other began.

Despite suffering from the type of headache which narrows a person’s eyes, and with the taste of whisky still sitting around the back of my throat, I couldn’t bring myself to sleep on the train.  At the table across the aisle from me was a younger woman who was wearing eyeshadow that was the colour of midnight. She unwrapped an oaty wholefood bar, and when I lifted the top of my roll to squeeze a sachet of brown sauce onto some bacon, all I could see was a pig rolling around in wet mud.  In an attempt to make myself feel better I reached into my bag for the banana I had packed, and I sat it on the table in front of me, although I think she could tell that I had no intention of eating it.

My interest in sleeping wasn’t just as a means of appeasing a hangover.  Recently it has seemed that the only way I am able to see my best friend is in my dreams.  She has been appearing in them frequently of late: at least two or three times a week, which is considerably more than the zero times I am able to talk to her when I’m awake.  In one of those sleep scenarios, I found myself in dispute with my subconscious. It was a day or two following my family birthday dinner, and in my dream, I was trying to describe to my friend where we had eaten our meal.  I gave very precise directions as to where the restaurant was located, although I couldn’t remember its name. She believed that I was describing The Seafood Temple, an assertion I agreed with, and I continued to elaborate on the evening, even though my lucid self was screaming out that the dinner had taken place at BAAB.  In my dream, I could hear myself say this, but the dream version of me ignored my pleas and continued to talk about a meal I had not eaten in a restaurant I had not been.

Unable to sleep, I sought to amuse myself by imagining the conversations other passengers around me were having.  With my earphones playing music at a moderate level, observing my fellow commuters was like watching a silent movie, and when their lips moved it was up to me to work out what they were saying.  As the train rattled through quiet little villages which were surrounded by rolling green fields, fluffy clouds of grazing sheep and calm blue streams, my attention was caught by a table of three people who I speculated were probably aged in their fifties.  Their conversation was constant and animated.

“It’s really beautiful and peaceful out here,” the first woman would have said as she leaned across the table in her knitted yellow top.  “We could happily live around here when you retire.”

“The dogs would really enjoy the space,” her husband agreed with a wistful look out of the window.  His hair was neatly combed and looked the way flour does when it becomes wet.

“You could probably build, like Edward and Barbara did.”  The third of the trio was female and was either the sister of the woman with the sunflower top, or one of those people who likes to befriend others who have a similar physical appearance.

“It’s so remote.  I bet you probably wouldn’t have to see anybody for days.  How perfect!”

“That’s a point,” the husband chimed in, sipping from his coffee cup as he considered retirement in rural Argyll.  “How would the boy from the bottom of the road get us the cocaine?”

By the time I arrived in Perth, autumn had put on its winter jacket.  I disembarked from the train and immediately played the U2 song Where The Streets Have No Name, which is a habit I have any time I visit somewhere new and unfamiliar, when I know I am going to get lost.  It took me longer than necessary to find my hotel for the night, and when I eventually did my hands were raw and my hangover had all but gone.  Although Perth is an old and historic city which is hugged by the River Tay, I only had eyes for its bars.  Drinking beer down by the river put me in mind of a Neil Young song, but I couldn’t place which one.  At three o’clock I met with my brother and a work colleague who resides in the area to watch the football scores come in.  We pored over our respective betting coupons, and at half-time, they were looking quite promising.  With great excitement we were discussing what we might do with the tremendous fortunes we were each destined to win in the coming hour, though by the time we walked the short distance from The King James to The Foundry we had lost more than our sobriety.

All manner of ghoulish characters were stalking the short streets of the city centre when night fell.  Whilst I initially thought that the people of Perth didn’t care as much for their appearance as those in more trendy places like Glasgow or Edinburgh, and I was verging on accusing the cleaning staff in the watering holes I visited of slacking on the job when it came to dusting the cobwebs which were dangling from the ceiling, I soon remembered that it was the weekend before Halloween and this probably wasn’t a regular sight.

On the plaza of the Concert Hall, a spectacular light show was taking place to celebrate the holiday.  Families of witches and vampires and the Predator from the Alien vs Predator movie filled the streets.  This made for quite a scene as hundreds of people dressed in plaid shirts of varying colours made their way into the venue to see the popular Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit.  The auditorium was more compact than I was expecting, which made for an intimate setting where every spot on the floor felt close to the stage. The Swedish sisters serenaded the sold-out audience with their beautiful harmonies, their voices sounding the way a great piece of art looks.  Every note stirred an emotion within me, although a level of drunkenness contributed to what I was feeling. The set passed very quickly and was a musical triumph.

After the gig, I drank in the Green Room, which seemed larger than a room and would probably be more appropriately classed a hall.  The bar was decorated in keeping with the Halloween theme, and amongst the spooky monsters and bloodied figures around the place were some spirits I was interested in.  I sampled a blend of whisky from the Isle of Jura and found that it didn’t burn my throat the way a malt usually does, so I continued to order it until the bar closed.  As I was walking back to my hotel, my breath was warm with whisky, and it escaped into the frozen night air, making me feel like a mighty dragon.  It was not long after one o’clock, although I couldn’t be sure if the time had already gone back an hour to mark the end of British Summer Time.  I spilled myself into the luxuriously comfortable hotel bed and slept well into the morning.  My dreams were as silent as a conversation on the train, though the hangover was like a lion’s roar.

The night I didn’t go to The Kooks (aka King Creosote @ Studio Theatre, Corran Halls, Oban)

It was the morning of the first Celtic vs Rangers fixture of the new season and I woke up feeling anxious about the game, and with both of my cheeks marked with three spots of  green, orange and pink neon paint.  Three questions immediately occurred to me as I stood staring at my brightly coloured reflection in the bathroom mirror: How did my face get into this condition? What is the procedure for removing neon face paint?  Wouldn’t it really make my eyes crackle if only there was a fuschia too?

The features of my face scrunched into a look of consternation as I considered my options.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, my internal monologue had assumed the role of a lazy cartoon devil, and it was attempting to convince me that the neon green and orange colours were ideal for displaying my allegiance to Celtic in the football that afternoon.  For around thirty seconds the thought didn’t seem entirely ridiculous to me, until I thought about the possibility that my team could lose the game and I would be left a prime candidate for a day of intolerable ridicule; a bright neon target drawn across the curve of my cheekbone, begging for attention.  My better judgment prevailed and I used a towel to wipe the colours from both sides of my face, leaving what could easily be mistaken for the remains of a squashed frog smeared upon the fluffy grey cotton.

By the time my face had been restored to its natural state, with a hung over glaze, I had received a text message from the girl whose floor I had mopped several weeks earlier in an act of chivalry and deeply flawed courtship.  She was remarking on how weird it was to wake up with UV spots painted on her face, and it was like shining a torch into the cupboard which is lined with cobwebs under the stairs and discovering that’s where the small tin of varnish which was used once years ago was stored.  Of course I let her paint my face!

In the Studio Theatre at the Corran Halls, King Creosote and his band performed an intimate set of Scottish folk rock before a capacity audience.  I attended with my brother, the plant doctor and a barman who is comfortably amongst the eleven best bar staff in Aulay’s, with whom I later became involved in a dispute over the size of the attendance.  The barman argued that there were nine rows of seating which each had ten chairs in them, whilst I contended that there were ten rows with twelve seats, having made no fewer than three attempts at counting them during the evening.  Either way, it could be said with some degree of certainty that there were between 90 and 120 people at the gig.

During an interlude between songs, I ordered a round of drinks for our group at the bar, where I found myself in conversation with the barmaid while she transferred Tennents Lager from a can into a plastic tumbler with a precise manner.  She enquired about my thoughts on the performance and told me that she was enjoying what she could hear of it from her position, which was behind a false wall at the back of the room, which meant that she was able to hear the music clearly but could not see the band.  I asked her if she had ever seen what King Creosote looks like, and she said that she had not. I offered the view that he would probably not appear as she was imagining, and before I knew what I was saying I had painted an elaborate picture of how he could quite easily have been busking on the street earlier in the day.  I felt as though I had said too much and quickly searched for a distraction by raising my concern about the difficulty of carrying four pints without spilling any beer. I asked her if she felt that my friends would mind the presence of a finger in their drink, and she assured me that it would probably be fine.

King Creosote and his band continued to play their brand of musical entertainment, and towards the end of the set, I became aware of the barmaid’s presence at the top of the stairs which our group had converted into the unofficial standing section.  I stood with a quiet sense of satisfaction at the thought that her curiosity as to King Creosote’s appearance had overwhelmed her following our brief discussion, and during that one particular song I imagined a scene where the barmaid felt compelled to stop pouring £3 cans of Tennents Lager into plastic containers for a line of baffled customers.  “Sorry,” she would have said, flicking waves of dark hair from her face as she abruptly left the bar, “but I just have to see if this guy looks like a busker.”

After the show, I sought out the barmaid to ask her if the singer had met her expectation.  She laughed in the kind of dismissive way that most girls do in my company and strongly disputed my earlier claim that he looks like he could have been busking.  I softened my stance and suggested that if King Creosote was a busker, he would probably be one of the better-dressed street performers, but this did little to bring her onto my side.  I wished her a good night and spent much of the following few hours thinking of ways I could engineer a second, less chastening, encounter with the moonlighting barmaid.

I had been trying valiantly to ignore the existence of my bladder since the last song before the encore, and so it was a tremendous relief when I walked into the bathroom after the gig.  The room was empty and I had the opportunity to reflect in luxury.  I had barely unzipped my jeans when an older man arrived at the furthest of the three urinals.  He spoke with a voice which boomed with enthusiasm and asked emphatically:  “Wasn’t that just the best concert you have been to in Oban?”  I paused mid-stream and tried to recall the bands I had seen play in the town, which proved difficult due to the beers I had been drinking and the concentration I was affording my effort to expel urine.  I agreed that it was an enjoyable gig, and the man continued to speak effusively about the second half of the gig and the talented young schoolgirl who was brought on stage to play the bagpipes.  I had no strong opinion on any aspect of the gig, but feel particularly uncomfortable disagreeing with another person in any situation where I have my penis in my hand, so I accepted everything the man said as being true.

In the bar along the seafront, my acquaintances and I chewed the fat of the evening’s events.  After some time, three members of the band we had just been watching turned up for a drink, including the female fiddler who we had all agreed was the star of the show, contrary to what the man in the Corran Halls bathroom believed.  She was the most attractive fiddle player I have seen and I immediately began to consider how a person would even flirt with a fiddler.  I couldn’t shake the notion of introducing a line around the phrase “it could be a real string in your bow…”, but I knew from instinct that I would make it sound terribly convoluted and not at all seductive.  The plant doctor managed to approach her and express his admiration for her talents as we were leaving the bar at closing time, and it became clear to both of us that the fiddler was involved in a romantic relationship with the guitarist, who would presumably have a greater range of string-related jokes to charm her with.

Some days later, the popular indie pop band The Kooks were playing in the main hall at the Corran Halls, and despite not being very familiar with their music I had spent much of the week considering buying a ticket, particularly when it occurred to me that it could be an opportunity to see the moonlighting barmaid again, and after I had learned in the meantime that she is ‘probably single.’  By the day of the gig I had been struck by a terrible dose of the cold and I didn’t feel like listening to pop music.  I considered that it was probably for the best that I didn’t see her so soon after the last gig anyway, with the potential that I would have ended Saturday night with a red face.

The day I had a cold (aka The Gaslight Anthem playing ‘The ’59 Sound’ tenth anniversary tour @ Barrowlands Ballroom, Glasgow)

I embarked upon the 12.11 ScotRail service to Glasgow and located my table seat close to the toilet, where I unloaded all of my travel essentials from my backpack onto the sickly green surface of the table:  an A5 lined notebook, a black pen, two bacon rolls, three sachets of Nottingham’s finest export, four cans of Budweiser, a small flask with a finger of Jack Daniels, a pocket packet of tissues and a silver film of Paracetamol.

Despite recently adding an intake of effervescent multivitamins to my morning routine and having also eaten a third of a punnet of blueberries, a banana and two easy peeler oranges which take no fewer than five attempts to peel, I had been hit with my first cold since December 2017 and it happened on the day The Gaslight Anthem were performing the tenth anniversary tour of the ‘59 Sound album at the Barrowlands.

I folded myself into my seat and watched Oban slide slowly into the distance when another sneeze erupted from my nostrils, which by now had taken on the distinct shade of a wind-battered carnation.  I cursed my immune system and wondered if this was the sort of thing Alanis Morissette was alluding to. A heavy sigh and a cough left my mouth at roughly the same time and I reached for the Paracetamol and drowned two of the tablets in a mouthful of whisky, unsure if I was trying to numb the nuisance of the cold symptoms or of everyday life.

By the time the train had wheezed into the village of Dalmally I had downed most of the first can of Budweiser and my nose was streaming more quickly than an addictive Netflix series.  The alcohol had soaked into my system and I was feeling extremely drowsy and miserable. Steal My Sunshine by Len played from my Spotify playlist, and even though the elderly woman sitting opposite me had been complaining of a cataract in each eye and could barely read her copy of the Daily Express even with a magnifying glass which was larger than my hand, she could probably see that I could barely muster the energy to drum along on my thigh.

I managed to stay awake all the way to Glasgow Queen Street, and when I checked into my room on the fifth floor of the Travelodge and took another dosage of Paracetamol using the small, flimsy plastic cup they provide guests with, presumably for such emergencies, I was forced to confront the dilemma which seems to vex me more than most other issues:  whether or not I should wear my denim jacket out to go to the gig. I balanced the fact that it wasn’t especially balmy outdoors with my failing immune system against the memory of many hot and sweaty nights seeing The Gaslight Anthem and I decided that I would be better off leaving the jacket behind.

I pushed all of the most valuable possessions in my life into each of the four pockets of my black jeans:  a mobile phone with its ability to play music, a pair of earphones, a wallet thick with silver coins and as many tissues as a person can reasonably carry.  The weight pushed my jeans – which were sitting quite loosely anyway – down past the waistband of my boxer shorts, and I considered that it might look to others as though I was making some vain attempt at a youthful statement of fashion, but I simply don’t have the buttocks for such a thing.

At The Raven, where I would enjoy a pint of Caesar Augustus, I was beaten to the bar by a short red-haired girl who proceeded to tell the barmaid that I should be served first.  The barmaid floated across the floor to my side of the bar and I insisted that the short red-haired girl had arrived before me and should be served instead. The barmaid returned to where she had once been standing and thanked both of us for our honesty as she poured a schooner of ale for the diminutive redhead.  I made some stupid remark which drew laughter from both of the ladies, but my internal narrator was telling me that despite making a chivalrous gesture and doing the socially correct thing of ensuring that the person who was first in line was served their drink before me, I was actually a dick because the short red-haired girl had made the move first.

After drinking my ill-gotten pint of hybrid lager and IPA I strolled down the Gallowgate to Saint Luke’s, which is a relatively new bar that has been restored from an old church, although people still go there seeking salvation and hiding from the problems of real-life with the assistance of a spirit.

I met with the girl with candyfloss pink hair and her friend who had the most bold and brilliant pink hair which looked almost like an explosion of raspberries.  I felt a little out of place with my boring and balding salt and pepper hair which is slicked over to the side, but we engaged in a round system anyway and I ordered a Tennents and a Jameson in an effort to give my cold a good kicking before the Gaslight Anthem show.

Most of the tables in the bar had been reserved by smart people who had planned ahead for the occasion, leaving the only seating available at tables which were so high that a compass was needed to reach the summit.  The Irish whiskey worked in drying out my nose and all of a sudden the pocketful of tissues that I was carrying had become redundant. We ordered a round of Jägerbombs, having decided at six o’clock that eating any kind of food would be futile, and the shot glasses were placed carefully inside a glass with an exceptionally wide rim which made it almost impossible to down both the Jägermeister and the Red Bull without a good quantity of the drink spilling onto my shirt.

In Bar 67, a pub I had never visited despite being a frequent attendee at Celtic Park over the past two years, the Jägerbombs were served in regular glasses which made it easier to drink the entire quantity of alcohol as well as energy drink, and my drowsiness was disappearing and I was once again beginning to feel human, if not dancer.  An older gentleman arrived and tried to convince us that it would be a good idea to buy a magazine he was selling which raises money for the homeless and is a contemporary adult competitor of The Big Issue. He insisted that he had received complaints that some of the content of the magazine was misogynistic and anti-Semitic but that he didn’t know what either of those terms meant, and I couldn’t decide whether this was some kind of a scheme or if he was being genuine.

As we were entering the Barrowlands Ballroom, which is directly across the road from Bar 67 and was the venue of the first gig I ever attended in November of 2003, I could feel myself becoming anxious as it became clear that I was going to be subjected to a pat down and I felt concerned that I would be forced to explain the excessive quantity of tissues in the front left pocket of my jeans and why a thirty-four-year-old man was wearing jeans below the waistband of his boxer shorts anyway.  The girl with the candyfloss pink hair handed me my ticket and I watched as the man in front of me was patted down without any issue and I knew that I would be next. I strode forward towards the man in the high visibility jacket with a drunk confidence which I hoped would mask the fear I had over the pocket which was bulging with tissue paper.  The man’s hands danced over my body and I could only hope that he was finding the entire experience as awkward as I was. He didn’t pass comment on the tissues and we were all free to enjoy the night ahead.

We ordered a round of doubles between the end of Dave Hause’s set and the beginning of The Gaslight Anthem’s in the hope that they would last, but my Jack Daniels was finished by the time the lights went down at around 9.15pm.  There are few feelings more euphoric than those few moments after the room goes dark and you know that your favourite band are about to come on stage. The Gaslight Anthem began with a blistering version of Handwritten and it wasn’t very long into the opening song of the set when my glasses were sent flying from my face somewhere into the blurry distance in front of me.

I could hardly see a thing and I was utterly panic-stricken.  I had no idea how I was going to find my glasses amongst the mass of people who were standing around six or seven rows deep in front of us.  How would I enjoy the rest of the gig when I can’t even see my own nose, let alone the band I have waited years to see again? How would I find my way back to my hotel or even be able to get a new pair of glasses in the morning?  It was the worst thing that could have happened to me.

I nudged the person who was standing next to me to alert them to the fact that I had lost my glasses, but I didn’t know what I was expecting her to do about it.  Could she get the band to stop playing rock and roll songs and have the house lights turned up so that everyone could look around their feet for my stray spectacles?  Obviously not, and so I squatted onto the sticky floor of the Barrowlands and desperately fished my hand through rivers of beer and amongst a dark forest of legs and crushed plastic cups.  Somehow, miraculously, I was able to put my fingers on the extended leg of my glasses and I retrieved them, unscathed, from the floor. It might have been the best feeling I have ever felt.

The ‘59 Sound is a joyous portrait of youthful exuberance, of heartache, of wild summer adventure and of hope and glory and love and everything else, and this gig was too.  I found myself frequently locking arms with bouncing sweaty strangers, my own blue and black flannel shirt clinging to my hot body and my black jeans melted to my flesh. My hair was drenched – utterly soaked – with sweat, as though I had just walked out of the shower and decided not to use a towel because the wet look is in vogue.  It was a cathartic release and I sang myself hoarse.

Nice n’ Sleazy’s seemed like a very long way from the Barrowlands when the gig finished at sometime around eleven o’clock, but it is one of my favourite bars in the city and they had been promising the best offering of music after the Gaslight Anthem performance.  I weaved my way through the maze of the city centre with all of the demolition work going on around Sauchiehall Street meaning that much of it is closed off and alternative routes need to be taken. I had my music for company and after some time I managed to find what I was looking for.  I stepped casually towards the doorway where I was confronted by two large bouncers who had the appearance of men who had never known amusement.

“Are you alright?”  The least amused of the two men asked, and I was baffled by this sudden interest in my wellbeing from a total stranger.  I assured him that I was well, having forgotten all about the rogue cold which had befallen me earlier in the day.

“Where have you been tonight?”  He continued, his tone taking on an increasingly interrogatory nature.

“Just the Gaslight Anthem gig at the Barras,” I said excitedly, wondering if he was going to engage me in conversation about the finer points of punk rock.  Instead he viewed me with suspicion, his demeanour becoming no more amused.

“Go easy in there tonight, pal,” he eventually relented as he opened the door and invited me to step inside the bar.

I ordered a Jack Daniels and coke and stood at the dim end of a quieter than expected bar and it suddenly struck me that with all the Paracetamol I had taken earlier in the day and all of the beer and whisky and Jägermeister I had drunk over the course of the night and with my sweat soaked head and disgusting shirt that maybe the bouncer had seen me as a figure of distress.  As I pondered this a young woman arrived next to me and she was holding a smartphone which was open on the Google Maps app. She leaned across a pile of free magazines which were sitting on the bar between us and asked me if I knew how to find Mango. I had never heard of the bar but could see from the icons on her map that it is close to Nice n’ Sleazy’s. I explained to her that with the various works going on around Sauchiehall Street it might be more difficult than normal to find Mango, at which point it occurred to me that I could make a really great pun about the difficulty of finding a good mango, but as soon as the words left my mouth she left and rejoined her friend at their table.

I had one more Jack Daniels and coke before retiring to my bedroom on the fifth floor of the Travelodge hotel.  I undressed and sunk into the cotton sheets but was still so exceptionally warm that I soon kicked them away. I woke up in the morning, dazed and hung over, and sneezed.  Not once or twice, but three or four times. I reached over to the bedside table for my glasses and affixed them to my face and nothing else really seemed to matter.

The week I wore a t-shirt and got a haircut (aka James @ Corran Halls, Oban)

I woke up one morning during the week, my eyes bleary from another night of mostly restless tossing and turning in bed and my mind not immediately certain whether it was morning or night or some mad hour in the middle of the two, and I had the thought that on that day I should wear a t-shirt for the first time in a while.

I don’t often wear t-shirts, despite having at least a third of a shelf in the bedroom wardrobe, which was surely built for a 19th century giant, devoted to neatly folded plain black and white and navy variations of the garment.  Although I am not anti t-shirt per se, I have long considered them to be the article of clothing of choice for men who don’t know how to dress properly.  The type of man whose reluctance to make any kind of effort when it comes to fashion leads me to speculate that they probably don’t even have a separate sock drawer.  I sometimes ask myself when I am bored and alone why I have so many t-shirts when I don’t wear them, and I think it’s because I have it in my mind that one day I might need to wear a black t-shirt.  A circumstance might arise where the only way of dealing with it is by throwing a cotton navy t-shirt over my head and arms.  In the same way that when I look right into the back of one of my kitchen cupboards I will find an unopened bottle of Rapeseed oil and the middle shelf will be full of tarragon, turmeric and thyme, because you never know when you might be cooking on a night and need a pinch of bouquet garni.  It is true that there is often too much thyme, yet there is never as much time as you would like.

Most of my better decisions are made in the shower.  There is a certain clarity of mind when all you have to think about is making sure you don’t accidentally put Nivea facial wash into your eyeballs, and it was this ability to think clearly which enabled me to agree with my earlier sleep-deprived realisation that it would be a good idea to change into a black t-shirt if I was intending to go for a haircut after work.  As disagreeable as the notion of being seen in a t-shirt is, it is preferable to the prospect of spoiling a perfectly good dress shirt with the ferociously irritating itch created by dozens upon dozens of stray hairs which gather under the collar in the way sun seeking drinkers loiter around the tables in a crowded beer garden.

I finished work early on Wednesday afternoon in preparation for that evening’s James concert and I went home and changed into a black t-shirt before walking along to the barber’s.  Ahead of me in the queue was a young mother and her two boys, only one of whom was getting his hair cut, and the wait was less arduous than when I normally visit on a Saturday morning.  The family seemed quite unremarkable, though after the child had his hair styled and they all left the barber was adamant that he doesn’t want to become “the darling of the tinkers.”  I found this to be a colourful turn of phrase and it featured often in my thoughts for the rest of the day.

As the hairs began to tumble from my head with an urgency I usually only ever see when I try to make a joke in front of a girl, the barber continued his tirade against the tinks and restated his desire to not become their darling.  I had been silent for what was probably close to two or three minutes and there came a point where I felt captive to respond due to the fact that I was held in a chair with a live blade to my scalp and with my arms imprisoned under the tightly wrapped cloak which was tucked under the collar of my t-shirt, despite it never doing very much to prevent the pesky little hairs from reaching my neck.  I threw out the occasional “aye” to compensate for my head’s inability to nod and to create the impression that I was interested in the views which were cascading in greater numbers than the hairs littering the floor around me.  I could imagine the headlines in the following weeks Oban Times if didn’t make some effort to sympathise with the trials of a barber:  Fringe killer; Cut off in his prime; A parting of the ways; A lot more than a little off the top; Short back and inside; Comb-OVER; Brutal barber can’t brush off dispute; Hell razor; Balding man murdered by the darling of the tinks.

Later in the afternoon, having changed into a proper shirt after deciding that rather than having a hair cut I would get them all trimmed, I indulged in some pre-gig libations in the May sunshine.  The town was a heaving mass of middle-aged men and women who were wearing mildly unflattering daisy t-shirts and the bars were throbbing.  After some time I wandered to Wetherspoons for what some might overly kindly describe as food, where I observed the fury of a man who claimed to have been waiting for twenty minutes for his wife’s order of a cup of tea only to be served with an empty cup and the advice that he should go inside and pour the tea himself.  The scene was amusing from a distance and the customer’s ire portrayed a man who was a couple of leaves short of a full box of loose leaf tea.

In the Corran Halls James played some good rock and roll music which was enjoyed by a capacity crowd, despite the bar being closed shortly after nine o’clock.  The band have been playing smaller venues in towns which are rarely visited by large or even any kind of musical acts in preparation for the summer festivals and the release of their forthcoming album Living In Extraordinary Times.  While much of the audience were probably waiting for the big hits like Sometimes and Laid that came in the encore, the entire set was engaging and met with great enthusiasm, and Tim Booth’s dancing was inspiring for my own moves.

The remainder of the week burned increasingly brightly and by Thursday evening I decided that I would pour myself into a seat at a beer garden.  On these sunny days there is little more joy in life than unwinding outside a bar by the sea with a refreshing cold Innis & Gunn, looking out towards the bay as the sun explodes off the sea like a thousand shooting stars and you feel the cool caress of an evening breeze against your face, quickly followed by the waft of a nearby cloud of Golden Virginia.

I knew that one pint of beer would not sate and so before leaving the flat I took what seemed at the time to be a sensible decision and I chopped the vegetables for the green bean, ginger and garlic stir fry I was intending on cooking for dinner, because cutting the ends off green beans is an arduous enough task without drunkenly cutting the end off my finger.  I left the prepared vegetables on a plate next to the wok on the cooker so that drunk me would be reminded of my intended method of cooking and I looked forward to the cuisine all night.  I returned home quite a bit later than anticipated at 11pm, and while the actual act of stir frying my meal went flawlessly I would quickly discover that intoxication has a detrimental effect on soy sauce control and my plate of green beans was swimming in the stuff.  This had the unfortunate consequence of ruining my navy blue tie and I reached the conclusion that in the future I would be better off cooking whilst sober.

The balmy conditions on Friday night led to me dispensing of the usual suit jacket and I instead dressed down in favour of a waistcoat, which was replete with a burgundy pocket square.  Most of the people I talked to refused to accept this as “dressing down” and instead were asking what the occasion was for me being so dressed up, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was being casual.  One man noticed the scent of Joop clinging to the skin of my neck and it seemed to evoke a memory of the first time he smelled the aftershave on the 13th of July 1998.  I was happy for his fond recollection but felt sad for myself that the ladies do not pay me such attention.  I later tried to engage a dogsitter in conversation, but when she revealed that the small dog – who was perched upon a bar stool next to her – is eleven years old my ability to talk seized up and I became paralysed by the fear of remarking that she would probably be hopeful that this elderly canine would not die on her watch,  I couldn’t trust myself and left the bar soon thereafter with my forehead pink from the sun and my face red with the shame I had narrowly avoided.  And even after all of that, not one person had commented on my neat hair cut.

The day Celtic won the league (aka The Weekend I wore double denim; aka Josh Rouse @ The Mash House, Edinburgh

Recently I have been finding myself sighing loudly at increasingly frequent intervals and often with a sprawling dramatic effect, to the point where people nearby who are witnessing this theatre have been asking if I am alright.  I have been considering whether this involuntary act is just another thing that happens as we become older – for I am aging every day, after all – or if it is a symptom of something else. There have been days of late where I have felt a lot like a petal in a rainstorm:  lost and alone and helpless and drenched in thought. It was with this wistful and weary feeling that I took my seat on the sparsely populated 18.11 Scotrail service to Glasgow on Saturday evening.

The sun was hanging low in the sky over the bay by this time, longing to be returned to the ocean, and I had eaten a truly terrible pizza before I left the flat.  I was becoming tired, and when I carefully placed my Tesco bag for life packed with four cans of Budweiser on the table it felt a tad ambitious. I glanced around the nearly empty carriage as the train departed and became aware that the only other person who was drinking alcohol was the man sitting at the table adjacent to mine.  He had the appearance of someone who was low on his luck and who had probably not long since gotten out of bed. I hesitated in pulling the ring on my first can of beer, feeling reluctant to be grouped with this down and out. Then I wondered: what does he think when he looks across the aisle at me?  He probably doesn’t care.  By the looks of his fingernails he probably doesn’t care about much at all.  I sighed and opened the can of Budweiser, and in that moment we became one.

I was only able to drink three cans of beer, but somehow that didn’t matter when I reached the reception desk at the Travelodge and was greeted by the girl who last week had remembered me from a previous stay.  This time I didn’t have the same quiet satisfaction of being remembered by an attractive female whom I don’t remember, as not only did I remember her but I had been hoping to encounter her again. She noted that I was dressed in double denim and I acknowledged that it was a bold decision which I might not have made had I been sober.  Over the course of the weekend I would see at least five other men who were wearing a combination of jeans and a denim jacket and on none of those occasions did I feel convinced that it is a style which is back in fashion. My case, in particular, was probably not helped by the fact that my jeans are now at least a size too big for me and so much of my belt is being used to hold them around my waist that there is a length of leather left flapping like a carrier bag caught on a rail.

The Travelodge girl processed my booking for two nights and as she was doing so asked me what seemed to be an unusual and unexpected question.

“Would you mind not having a bath?”

For a moment I was caught off guard and hesitated.  The possibility ran through my mind that the Travelodge girl was sexually interested in me and that the forfeit of decency and hygiene was some kind of kink of hers.  But she looks much too manicured for that and my ability to wash myself is one of my best qualities, so I immediately dismissed that notion.

“Can I at least shower?”  I queried.

She laughed in the same way women tend to when I say something which is both vaguely amusing and laden with ineptitude.  She clarified that my room would have a shower but not a bath, and I declared that would be fine with me as I had forgotten to pack my lavender bath bombs.

Having checked in to my room and applied a fresh squirt of Joop Homme and disrobed myself of my denim jacket I returned downstairs, where disappointment furrowed my brow when the diminutive and curved blonde Travelodge girl was not behind the bar.  Instead I was served Guinness and Glenfiddich – as they were out of Jameson – by a taller, balder and more masculine character. Whilst he was not at all unpleasant he very quickly indulged me in the intricate details of his latest hobby, which happens to be to collect coins, and I have no currency for small talk.  He read to me from his small notebook a list of countries and denominations, page after page of them, and would later allow me to hold a Portuguese escudo. I had never prepared myself for such a thing and didn’t know quite what a person should be saying when holding a small piece of Iberian silver.

“It’s an interesting design,” proved to be the best coin chat I could muster.

Fortunately the coin collector’s shift finished at eleven o’clock and the Travelodge girl glided across the floor to serve a couple of older women who had ordered a vodka and coke each.  She informed the ladies that the bar had run out of ice and asked them if they would welcome a wedge of lemon as a substitute. They declined, and at the first opportunity I challenged the Travelodge girl on the logic of offering lemon as an alternative to ice.  She claimed that as it dilutes the drink it serves the same purpose and I wasn’t convinced.

“Speaking of lemons,” I exclaimed with the kind of excitement I get when something funny occurs to me.  “I’ll tell you something I’m feeling bitter about – you’ve run out of Jameson.”

Without hesitation she responded.

That joke is something to be bitter about,” she welped, emphasising the first two words as though she was questioning whether it could even be classed a joke.

Although she was clearly incorrect I continued talking to her anyway, and I relayed the tale of how I had gotten so drunk at the bar the previous Saturday that I fell asleep on top of the bed and gave the housekeepers the easiest Sunday morning they could have experienced.  Her face demonstrated a lack of surprise at this revelation, and she confirmed that I left the bar “in quite a state” that night. With those words I imagined that I had walked away from my bar stool in the manner of a bag of wet, unfolded laundry.

By this stage I had been joined by and found myself in conversation with a gentleman from the west coast of Ireland.  We discussed the upcoming Old Firm fixture; his love of Liverpool FC and how if Steven Gerrard becomes the next Rangers manager he will disown him the same way he did Michael Owen when he signed for Manchester United; the difference between football fans and GAA fans and how he can attend a Mayo vs Dublin game and sit next to someone from Dublin and hate them for no longer than the period of the game; how living in Switzerland for four months has taught him that “the Swiss are cunts.”  At points I found myself acting as a translator between the deep Irish brogue and the Glaswegian accent, and I was melting inside at the sound of both. I felt a deep awkwardness drinking Guinness poured from a can in front of an actual Irishman – it is inferior to the real thing in every conceivable way – and I suspect that he eventually became so offended by the sight that it was the cause of him getting up and leaving without ceremony.

On Sunday morning the sky was a sapphire blue and it looked as though it was dressed for a party.  I was conscious earlier than anticipated and decided to walk from the city centre to Celtic Park rather than take the train to Bellgrove, as I would ordinarily do on these type of match days.  During the week I had created a playlist of predominantly sad songs for a blue-haired friend who seems to be going through a troubled time and I listened to it as I made my way along the Gallowgate, as I had been doing all weekend, though I didn’t imagine that the groups of people singing behind me were serenading the journey with The Speed of Pain by Marilyn Manson.

Although it was early in the day – pre-afternoon, in fact – it was notable how many of the men walking ahead of me were cradling bottles of Buckfast in the back pockets of their jeans like it was the most prized possession in their life at that moment, in the way some carry a wallet holding pictures of loved ones or an iPod with their favourite songs.  Later, into the afternoon, those same bottles are standing triumphantly against lampposts, lined in regiment along the tops of walls and propped proudly against pavement kerbs, statuesque, like the way we memorialise heroes.

Celtic Park was shimmering in sunlight and the next time I saw my face my forehead was pink like a medium-rare fillet steak, owed to the lack of protection a cap might have offered – or a full head of hair.  This was not my first health and safety concern of the afternoon. I almost lost my glasses in the wild exuberance of the first goal, and by the time the third goal was scored and the entire stadium – save for some of the 7,000 in blue who were already shuffling towards the exits – locked arms around one another to do the Huddle I had visions of tumbling over the seat behind me.

At times I found myself glancing at the steward presiding over my block and wondered if she was The Most Beautiful Steward in the World from a game some time last season.  I had my doubts, because she looked a little fuller than before, but then that was an evening kick-off and much like bar lights everything looks better under floodlights.  I was convinced that it might have been her, however, by the fact that she shared many of the mannerisms The Most Beautiful Steward in the World had, such as frequently looking up at the screens and refusing to make eye contact with me.

During the half-time interval I embarked on my usual effort to source a sachet of brown sauce, which at times seemed almost as unlikely as finding a Rangers goal.  The base of the steak pie was sticking to the foil case with much more resolution than the Rangers midfield had been showing and the whole thing became a messy farce.

In the ground I was continuing to struggle to understand a single word spoken by the Northern Irishman next to me, though I am certain that he was excited.  The names of Andy Halliday and Alfredo Morelos reverberated around the stands with an adoration which is unlikely to be heard in even their own homes. By the time the fifth goal was scored and Celtic had won the league on an occasion where they had beaten Rangers for the first time since 1979 the place was heaving with joy the likes of which I have rarely seen.

After the final whistle I found it difficult to celebrate the way I felt like doing when I ended up in Shilling Brewing Co. drinking a hoppy session pale ale by the name of Goonies Never Die.  Often it seems to me that an IPA is a drink which is not supposed to be enjoyed, so complex and harsh it can be on the palette. The girl with the pink hair made a late withdrawal from the Josh Rouse gig and I travelled to Edinburgh alone.  I decided that I would eat dinner on the train and bought a brie, bacon and chilli chutney sandwich that had been reduced from £2.25 to £1.49, though with hindsight it wasn’t as substantial a reduction as it had seemed at the time.

With the journey between Scotland’s two largest cities being less than an hour I reckoned that I would not need a great amount of beer and so bought three 330ml cans of Brooklyn Lager rather than a typical four-pack of 440ml.  These cans were individually priced at £2.05 and the vigilant Sainsbury’s checkout woman queried whether I was aware of this. Whilst the price was indeed ridiculous I accepted it and confirmed that I would pay for the beer. She commented that she often pays inflated prices for wines she enjoys and I wasn’t sure if she was trying to make me feel better or worse about it.

On the train I continued the title-winning celebrations by listening to my sad playlist of songs by The Smiths, The Cure, Ryan Adams and The Ramones and attempted to drink Brooklyn Lager discreetly from an orange Sainsbury’s bag which was nestled between my thighs because I couldn’t be sure whether there was a ban on alcohol following the football.  A toddler of about three years of age, dressed in fluffy pink fairy wings, kept looking at me from across the carriage and it was the most judged I have ever felt. I got off the train at Waverley Station and hoped that the experience of watching a pink-faced man quaffing lager from an orange carrier bag wasn’t one which would traumatise this young girl in later life.

Edinburgh’s grey and gothic features were basking in the haze of an early evening glow and it is something I have rarely witnessed in the city.  The sun conspired with the architecture to cast haunting shadows across the streets and it was almost as charming as when the rain slickens the cobbles in the Old Town.  I made quick visits to some of my favourite bars in the city and drank Tennent’s Lager in Banshee Labyrinth, drawing attention to the fact that I am from the west coast. The Banshee Labyrinth is one of my favourite bars anywhere and its sign holds the claim that it is Scotland’s most haunted pub, though in my times there the only spirits I have encountered sit behind the bar in bottles.

Josh Rouse was playing at The Mash House, which turned out to be but a short stumble from the pubs I had travelled to.  The venue itself was very small and intimate, surely not much bigger than my flat, wall to wall. His set was very tight and had the kind of chilled out vibe I enjoy from his music and just about everything I could have hoped he would play he did.  I was particularly pleased and probably let out a shriek every bit as triumphant as when Callum McGregor scored earlier in the day when he played Hollywood Bass Player, the video for which features an animated Madonna taking a giraffe to a drive-thru cinema on a date.  I have long since seeing the video questioned what the etiquette would be when dating a giraffe: who buys the popcorn, who initiates the first kiss, who picks the movie?

By the time the gig finished and I was on the train back to Glasgow the ten o’clock curfew for selling alcohol in Scotland had passed and I was forced to endure a dry journey.  Similarly the bar in the Travelodge had closed for the night when I arrived there, being a Sunday night, and I returned to my room. It was barely midnight when I got under the covers and turned off the lights.  I sighed loudly and another rainstorm started.

The day I took a flask of coffee on the train (aka The Low Anthem @ Stereo, Glasgow)

All week I had been trying to convince myself that it would be a good idea to stay home on Friday night.  I was meeting a friend in Glasgow on Saturday to go and see The Low Anthem and it seemed that my money and liver would be better saved for that, as well as the 8.57 train that morning.  This effort was going quite successfully until around 5.45 on Friday evening when I opened a can of Innis & Gunn. There is something about drinking alcohol in your own living room that makes you long to go to the bar, particularly beer though not so much wine, which is sometimes quite literally a house drink.

Some time after eight o’clock I walked into Aulay’s Bar, though not until after I had taken a series of precautionary measures to make the morning easier for myself.  I packed a bag with a change of clothes and the necessary travel toiletries; two notebooks and a pen; the tickets for the gig on Saturday night and a phone charger. I prepared the coffee machine so that it would be ready to make enough coffee to fill the silver flask I had bought earlier in the week and I set aside two crispy rolls and four slices of square sausage, having purchased a second roll as a diversionary method to prevent me from picking up a sticky bun, which was 20p more expensive and presumably even worse for the body than two more square sausages.

As well as all that I also set thirteen alarms on my phone to go off at various intervals between 7am and, in the worst case scenario, 8.36.  It turns out, however, that alarms are only really effective if you are willing to listen to them and no matter how often or loudly they sound it is still your responsibility to get yourself out of bed.  This is particularly trying when you have been drinking beer and Jameson until midnight, and although I woke up when the first alarm triggered at seven o’clock I wasn’t able to get myself out of bed until 7.50.  An hour and seven minutes would surely be enough time to get ready and onto the train.

At 8.56 I was next in line at the ticket office window to collect the tickets I had reserved nigh upon six weeks earlier.  I felt an adrenaline surge through my body, the like of which I usually feel when I am readying myself to talk to a girl: a kind of terror, but tinged with excitement.  This is living life on the edge, I thought.  I began to consider how I might spend the next three hours of the morning if the train departed without me and I had to wait for the next one.  I decided that I would probably go back to bed. It didn’t come to that, though, and having received my tickets I strided onto the train, and as the doors closed behind me it was in motion before I had reached my seat.

When we were younger it always seemed that a train journey was a sort of picnic on wheels.  I can remember newspapers strewn across the table, there would be coffee cups and probably some kind of fizzy drink, sandwiches and sweets, maybe a packet of pork pies.  The train was much more of a fun adventure than taking the car or the bus, where I would often vomit due to travel sickness. As an adult it seems the reverse is true and I am occasionally feeling ill on the train, though this usually self-inflicted.

The memory of those picnics on wheels was on my mind when I reached into my backpack for my flask of coffee and two rolls.  I wondered if back in my days of blissful youth I was the shy eater I have become in public. As I took a bite of the first roll I was aware of bread crumbling onto the table around me and I could imagine some of the passengers nearby staring at me and chuckling to themselves at the sight of flour flailing onto my greying stubble.  If this was so terrible I could only dread the fate that would befall me once I reached the tomato ketchup.

In the late afternoon of a warm spring Saturday I met with the girl with pink hair, who on this occasion had managed to match the deep purple of her lipstick and nails to the colour of her Dark Fruits cider in a fashion similar to the way that my pocket square and tie and socks almost match.  We took advantage of the radiant sunshine and indulged in some al fresco adult beverages. The corner of Hope Street basked in the reflective rays which bounced off the passing traffic and the windows of buildings like a boomerang and it lasted long into the evening. The streets were bustling with energy and in the distance the sound of a lone piper bellowed.  It wasn’t immediately clear to us where the music was coming from, as the powerful glare of the sun obscured everything more than five feet away from our table. Soon we deduced from the swarm of smartly dressed people walking across the road to the Radisson Blu that the bagpiper was positioned outside the hotel and we suspected that they were going to an event which people who were dressed like we were and in the condition we were in would not be welcomed.

After some time the door staff at the Sir John Moore bar changed and the new man who was tasked with shepherding stray drinkers away from the benches on the pavement and to the tables under the canopy resembled a less animated version of Peter Griffin.  He seemed to carry a great authority in his role, despite not wearing a tie, and proved effective at rounding up any rogue street dwellers. The girl with pink hair and I liked to imagine that as the bouncer assertively told people they had to drink by the tables he had the same brilliant and unusual cartoon thoughts his television lookalike has.  I lost any kind of admiration I could have for him, however, when I noticed that beneath the enormous belly which loomed over the waistband of his black trousers the way the moon sits over the horizon he was wearing a brown belt, which betrayed his black shoes and caused me great distress to see.

The failure to co-ordinate fashion was probably more disturbing to me than bearing witness to a man in the bathroom who placed his hands under the tap for a brief splash of water and then spent around twelve seconds drying them.  Though this is undoubtedly better than the creatures who walk straight out of the toilet without so much as looking at the soap, but it feels like it is all for show. I shared this concern when I returned to the table, where we also discussed the attributes of sheep and whether it is more favourable for the male to have a large body or a large penis, whether horses are like humans and sometimes have days where they turn up for a race and can’t be bothered with it, the lyrics of the Smiths song ‘Ask’ and arrived upon the belief that telling a person that “I’ve found God” would be the best excuse for getting out of just about any scenario without having to offer further explanation, be it ending a relationship, leaving a job or calling in sick.  It occurred to me that this phrase could also work the other way and be a fruitful line to use to attract women and I have resolved to utilise it at the next opportunity.

Excuse me, I assume that you ordinarily wouldn’t even look at a guy like me, let alone engage in a physical relationship, but I have recently found God and he has spoken to me and told me that we are meant to have sex with one another many times.”

“Well, okay, if God said it…”

It isn’t always the case that you can pinpoint the exact moment when a night began to deteriorate like the time the Knopfler brothers formed a band and you found yourself in Dire Straits, but the decision to fill half of a glass with rose wine and the other half with Dark Fruits cider was clearly the catastrophic, albeit quite delicious, milestone in this particular episode.  We did this in order to help the girl with pink hair finish off a vicious bottle of wine so we could move on to Solid Rock, where I remember they played a Guns N Roses song but not much else. The fruit cocktail went straight to my head and I immediately went from feeling barely tipsy on hipster craft beers to full on drunk as a monkey, though the giddy kind of drunk.

The Low Anthem were playing not far up the road, and by the time we arrived in Stereo they had already started their set.  While they are a musically gifted act and can create some quite beautiful sounds, this was a terrible gig which featured their recent arduous album The Salt Doll Went to Measure the Depth of the Sea in its entirety, as well as a tiring monologue about fish and the ocean.  When they played my favourite song, Apothecary Love, they forgot the lyrics halfway through and gave up, by which point I was wishing I had followed the girl with the pink hair’s lead and left. I stayed until the end, though, and no measure of Jack Daniels and coke could have made it bearable.

It couldn’t have been much later than ten o’clock when the concert finished and I retired to the bar of the Travelodge I was staying in. Seated there were two individuals, an older gentleman from West Yorkshire and a younger woman, probably around my age or younger, from Manchester, and we talked and drank into the morning hours.  I attempted to engage in some banter with the young barmaid and after some time she told me that she remembered me from a previous stay. “You’re very inquisitive,” she said after another meaningless drunken remark.  I gained some quiet satisfaction from the fact that this attractive barmaid could remember me when she wasn’t at all familiar to me, and I drank Guinness and Jameson and woke up at seven o’clock in the morning, fully clothed and on top of my unruffled bed.

I managed to make the 12.20 train home in plenty of time, though when I took an empty and unmarked table seat next to a reserved seat I was asked by the young woman who had seemingly purchased it if I would mind moving to the backwards facing seat as she becomes dizzy if she is seated in the direction of travel.  She was quite beautiful and asked politely and with an exotic accent and so I found it difficult to refuse and we swapped seats. I put my earphones in and listened to a Spotify playlist marked 13th May 2017 and I opened a can of beer whilst I began to write a blog post on the weekend’s events.  Every so often I would glance at the beautiful stranger opposite me and wonder how I could talk to her.  Her fingernails were painted a bright pink, which didn’t seem to match anything else on her person, and she frequently took photographs out of the window.  I was nearing the conclusion of my blog and the last of the beer and I decided that I would speak to her when the train reached Taynuilt, because that way if I fucked it up there would only be around twenty minutes of awkwardness to suffer.  When the train crawled into the village I closed the lid of my Chromebook and considered what I might say to her. She was busily texting or swiping through social media and I didn’t have the courage to interrupt her, so I sat anxiously sipping at my Innis & Gunn and questioning whether it would seem unusual to this young woman if I sat opposite her for almost three hours without saying a word and suddenly wanted to start a conversation.  I imagined that it would and I felt the same terror and excitement I had experienced the previous day. When the train reached Connel and she began taking photographs again I used the only opening line that came to my mind.

Are you some kind of traveller?”  I asked, inspired by the sight of her rucksack and by the fact that she was taking pictures and seemed quite foreign.

She explained that she wasn’t a traveller but was a Cypriot studying marine biology in Glasgow and was on her way to Oban for a week of work experience at SAMS.  We had a fine conversation, during which I learned more about mussels, seaweed and starfish than I could ever possibly have known. She told me where she was staying and asked me how to find it.  I told her that it was a straightforward walk and that I would take her there, As we were walking through town I pointed out some local points of interest and told her how to reach various amenities.  I thought that it might be amusing to draw her attention to McCaig’s Tower and tell her the story of its construction, only I suggested that John McCaig was a keen enthusiast of alien life form and erected the structure as a means of attracting spacecraft on the day that aliens decide to visit Earth.  She didn’t seem to be captivated by that story and by the time we reached her accommodation on the esplanade I had lost any courage I had to ask her if she would join me for a drink later in the evening. I had a feeling that not even God would tell me that would be a good idea.

The day the horse left the stable (aka Ryan Adams @ The Sage, Gateshead)


When I left Dublin towards the end of last week with the realisation in mind that I hadn’t engaged in a single conversation with another person I couldn’t have expected that by the end of my brief stay in Glasgow on Saturday I would have experienced a deluge of vocal interactions.  I talked to exactly as many people as Celtic scored goals against Ross County:  four.

I had hoped that my recent twenty-two hours in Belfast would have given me a greater capacity for understanding the accent of the Northern Irishman who sits two seats along from me at Celtic Park.  In the past I have found myself nodding along to his every utterance, trusting that he hasn’t been saying anything contentious that I’ve inadvertantly agreed with because I can understand only every seventh word he says.  I took my seat a few minutes before kick-off, sharing a nod of acknowledgment with the older gentleman as I passed him.  After some moments of silence he reached across the two empty seats between us and tapped me on the arm.  I turned my head in his direction and felt an anticipation I have rarely felt when waiting to hear what a man is going to say about a game of football.  This would be my moment of truth, the first test of my newly discovered understanding of the Northern Irish accent.  He said something about Moussa Dembele – that much I know – but I will never know what, for his accent remained almost completely indistinguishable to my ears.  I nodded and smiled.  It’s good to see him back.  I took a wild assumption that he wasn’t complaining about Dembele returning to the team from injury.

This scene was to be repeated often over the course of the afternoon:  him stretching across the empty green seats, his bulky hand crashing against my forearm with a force that would probably crush a grape if I was in the habit of keeping them in the sleeve of my jacket, me taking my eyes off the game to face him and eventually nod in acceptance of whatever opinion he was offering.  I began to wonder if his increasing act of striking my arm was in some way a recognition of my inability to understand his words and he was urging me to try harder.  You better understand what I’m saying to you or I’m going to keep hitting you.  In that event I had better bring padding to the next game.


As is usually the case the half-time break afforded me with an opportunity to escape my translation issues for at least fifteen minutes and I took my place in the queue for a pie.  For a change the food stall experience was relatively unchallenging and I got the pie I wanted with minimum fuss.  The real task at Celtic Park these days is finding brown sauce.  I ventured to no less than three condiment stations in search of the savoury accompaniment and found nothing but tomato sauce and sachet upon sachet of salt and pepper.  I wondered of what use pepper is to anyone eating the standard pie, chips or even pizza.  No wonder there is so much pepper; nobody needs it!  I cannot think of a single food on offer at Celtic Park that would be enhanced by a sprinkling of pepper, whereas a pie practically demands brown sauce.  I could tell that the search was once again forlorn and the pie was beginning to burn my hand – which at least reassured me that it was hot – and I resigned myself to a pie without brown sauce.
That evening I would find myself sitting at the bar in the Travelodge prior to meeting my friend with the pink hair, my arm suitably recovered from the football to hold a pint of beer.  My thoughts were lost in the blandness of the setting:  the decor which was more beige than beige, the mundane pop music filtering from a speaker over an otherwise empty room, the subtitled BBC News 24 on a television in the corner, an offering of Stella Artois or Bud Light on tap.  A curly-haired blonde barmaid appeared behind the bar as I was nursing a cold pint of soulless beer, looking entirely different to the balding middle-aged man who had poured me the pint minutes earlier.  

“What brings you to Glasgow?” I heard her say, and I automatically assumed that she was speaking to another guest, even though I knew I was the only person who would be drinking at eight o’clock in a Travelodge bar.  I looked up from my glass and, sure enough, she was looking in my direction.  My natural instinct is to answer such a question with a response along the lines of “the train”, but since this promised to be my first actual conversation with another person since I left Oban on Monday morning I decided that I would try to not fuck it up by being myself.  I assumed the unfamiliar role of a normal person and responded by telling her all about my trip seeing Ryan Adams perform seven gigs in six cities in four different countries, adding the usual caveat about him not being the Canadian rocker with the letter ‘B’ in front of his name.  This story remarkably did not cause her to lose interest and she continued to talk to me.  We discussed the iPod she received as a gift last Christmas but has not yet used and I noted how they are coming back into fashion like the vinyl record player, even though I have no idea how true that is.  We touched upon the way that Google Maps has taken all the fun and adventure out of getting lost in a city – a conversation I am certain I had in Belfast – and she told me all about her equestrian studies and her hopes to eventually earn a living preparing horses for shows.  She clearly enjoyed talking about horses and so I indulged her, and she talked and talked and talked — until eventually I asked what certainly ranks amongst the most stupid questions I have asked a girl.

Is there a drink riding limit the same way there’s a drink driving limit?”

I don’t know why I wanted to know the answer to that question, and quite naturally it seemed to be something that had never occurred to the barmaid.  She did her best to try to formulate some kind of response but it was evidently a subject that was yet to be covered in her equine lectures.  I left the Travelodge bar to meet my friend with the pink hair and I couldn’t help but sense that my interaction with the barmaid would have ended better had I not introduced the idea of riding her beloved horses whilst intoxicated.  I suppose it could have been worse and I might have suggested getting the horses drunk prior to dressage.  This was all on my mind when I entered Variety and considered the etiquette of sitting at a booth when your friend has already arrived.  Is it appropriate to sit on the cushioned area next to them or is it more polite to sit across the table from them?  I bought a beer and sat on what appeared to be a miniature representation of a stool which, upon glancing around the bar, seemed to make most other men who were sitting on similar stools look like giants.  I suspected that to them I would look like I was afraid to sit next to a girl.


I returned to my hotel some hours later and, safe in the knowledge that the equestrian student had finished her shift at eleven o’clock, I headed to the bar for a nightcap.  This seemed a particularly questionable decision considering that I was scheduled to be getting on a train to Newcastle little more than seven hours later, but there reaches a point in any night when drinking Jack Daniels that any decision can easily be justified.  I found myself in conversation with another talkative barmaid and I can remember querying the spelling of her name on her badge; ‘Kaitlynn’.  I suggested that the second ‘n’ seemed unnecessary and I think she broadly agreed and blamed the whole scenario on her parents, which seemed reasonable considering she probably had minimal input in the discussion.  I asked her when they stopped serving at the bar and she informed me that 2am is the cut off, though they will sometimes continue to sell alcohol if it is busy and the guests aren’t too drunk.  I was the only person at the bar and my watch clearly stated that it was about five minutes past two.  Out of ten, how drunk am I?  I asked, hopeful of enjoying at least one more Jack Daniels.  “You’re definitely an eight out of ten.”  I accepted this score without dispute and suggested that we still have two points to play with, so she poured me another Jack Daniels and the 09.30 train to Newcastle was a hellish experience.

Conversation returned to being found at a premium in Newcastle, though I was able to share in the thrill one barmaid had in being handed her first plastic £10 note when I caught sight of her photographing it before putting it in the till.  I questioned whether she was some kind of currency enthusiast – perhaps hoping that she could help me identify some of the coins in my wallet.  She explained that she had not seen the new £10 note until being handed it by another customer now and I asked if it is the one with the face of Jane Austen on it.  She didn’t know and handed the note over to me to examine.  I realised that I don’t know what Jane Austen looks like but didn’t want to admit this to the barmaid.  Oh yeah, that’s the one with Jane Austen on it alright.  I noted that the plastic money is supposed to be practically indestructible but she claimed that she can tear the £5 notes.  How?  “You just have to keep trying…they’ll tear eventually.”   I felt both impressed and suitably threatened.


Ryan’s set at The Sage was another unique occasion on this tour.  He was feeling sick and therefore was “low energy” which seemed to contribute to the set being at least a couple of songs shorter than previous nights and to him indulging the audience – which was entirely seated – in far more inter song banter than elsewhere.  He acknowledged early in the night the awkward nature of playing a rock show to a seated crowd, and it was certainly a strange experience.  His humour added a different dimension to the show compared to the rest of the tour, and his theory that the couple he spotted leaving on an upper tier were “probably away to make out while listening to KISS — though hopefully pre-1982 KISS” was joyful.  That he and the band played Tired Of Giving Up – one of my favourite songs from his eponymous album – for the very first time anywhere made this a memorable night.

Bars visited:
The Raven – 81-85 Renfield Street, Glasgow
Variety – 401 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow
Nice N Sleazy – 421 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow
The Union Rooms – 48 Westgate Road, Newcastle
Bacchus – 42-48 High Bridge, Newcastle
The Bridge Tavern – 7 Akenside Hill, Newcastle
The Head of Steam – 11-17 Broad Chare, Newcastle

Next stop:
O2 Academy, Bournemouth – Tuesday 19th September

Final scores:
Celtic 4-0 Ross County
JJ 0-6 Ryan Adams gigs