The few weeks I realised I am in a funk

I have found myself in something of a funk lately.  Not the sort of rhythmic groove in a James Brown or Prince song, but more a sense that things aren’t quite right in my life.  I suppose this feeling all began a few weeks ago when I decided to break my mealtime monotony by constructing my own salad boxes rather than continue with my lethargic lunchtime routine of spending £4.70 each day on a sandwich and soup from a local eatery.  Initially I felt an enthusiasm as I considered the financial and health benefits of filling a 1.1 litre sealable plastic box with leaves and cherry tomatoes and olives and pine nuts and feta cheese, but I quickly encountered a series of salad snafu’s.

My first dilemma was with the dressing.  On the first few days of eating from a box I used rapeseed oil to provide a tasty glaze to the salad, but I found that it added little to the inherent blandness of a green leaf.  I tried a French dressing but considered it much too vinegary for one o’clock in the afternoon, while the chilli, mango and lime concoction I used once left me colder than a refrigerated cherry tomato.  After several weeks I am still at a salad dressing impasse.

Finding the right ingredients – or at least the right volume of ingredients – for my box has also caused some consternation of late.  On occasion I have used too much halloumi, which can bring about a most curious light-headedness; sometimes there are too few cherry tomatoes, though arguably there can never be enough of nature’s popcorn (if you consider nature’s popcorn to be the cherry tomato and not the corn kernel); while my use of packaged salad has frequently been less babyleaf and more full on forestry.  At one point in the last week I attempted to put together a Caesar Salad and gathered together everything I thought I would need:  lettuce, chicken, Caesar Salad Dressing, cherry tomatoes (because they are nature’s popcorn, after all.)  I made my way home in the cold November rain and had the chilling realisation that I had forgotten to buy croutons.  On my next shopping trip I had the need for croutons entrenched in my mind.  I collected each of the goods I wanted and scoured the shelves for a packet of rebaked bread, but I couldn’t find the croutons anywhere.  I roamed from aisle to aisle, from the fresh produce section to the biscuits and the bread and the crisps and even to the detergents, but there was not a crouton to be found.  I was in the midst of a crouton crisis.

With my mind clearly preoccupied with the pressures of putting together the ideal salad box, I suffered one of the most distressing sartorial faux pas of my adult life nigh upon ten days ago when it suddenly occurred to me on a bleak Wednesday afternoon that for the third consecutive day I was wearing a tie which was a shade of blue.  I felt a deep sense of embarrassment and couldn’t understand how I had allowed myself to make such a blunder.  As a man who puts a tremendous amount of thought into his tie and sock pairings, and with a veritable rainbow of ties cascading from a tie rack, it should be impossible for me to wear the same colour of tie twice in a week, let alone for three days running.  It was on this day that I realised that like the knot in my baby blue tie, something in my life was askew.

The opening lines in one of my favourite Bruce Springsteen songs, Badlands,  has The Boss singing:

Lights out tonight,
Trouble in the heartland,
Got a head on collision,
Smashin’ in my guts, man…

And that goes some way to describing the numb feeling I have been experiencing inside me recently.  It is like an emptiness…but you surely can’t feel an emptiness, and this feels like a car crash.  Not just any car crash, but a collision between two comically sized clown cars.  And out of the burning, smouldering wreckage of these clown cars are spilling clown after clown after clown after clown.  They keep coming.  An impossible number of white-painted faces, novelty red noses and ridiculously sized shoes, crawling out of the mangled steel frames of these tiny cars.  Running around the scene of the accident and flailing their arms in terror, each footstep squeaking loudly, wounds being tended to by a tourniquet fashioned from an endless ream of multi-coloured tissue.  It is a funny feeling.

It was with this malaise in mind (malaise being a feeling of unease and not a delicious salad dressing) coupled with the late cancellation of two separate Friday night plans that I ended up drinking alone in Aulay’s.  I supped on a tepid Tennents and filled the jukebox with the sounds of KISS, Tom Petty, Neil Young, R.E.M. and November Rain by Guns N’ Roses when I became aware of something that is highly irregular in Aulay’s…something else that is highly irregular in Aulay’s:  a young woman standing at the bar by herself.  I listened to Axl Rose wail over the sound of keys being pounded on a piano – my favourite song – and immediately regretted ordering a packet of sweet chilli flavoured Nobby’s Nuts.  As I finished off my savoury snack and the last of my lager I observed a trio of older women, surely of pensionable age, converge around the jukebox.  My final song faded out and the onus fell on these three women to provide a soundtrack to the night.  To the amazement of all a song by Avicii began to play.  I wondered how on earth this dance remix was blasting out of the speakers and could only suspect that the older women were selecting songs based on the pictures on the main screen.

I cleaned the offending nut residue from my fingers and positioned myself closer to the lone female as I ordered another pint of beer.  By this time she had become involved in a conversation with another woman at the bar and I feigned interest in the Sweden vs Italy World Cup playoff on the television in the corner as I contemplated how I could draw the attention of this drinking damsel.  It was in my mind that I had briefly talked to her a couple of weeks previous when I was out for a colleague’s leaving dinner, but we were both ridiculously drunk and the only memorable thing from the encounter was the red wine stains around her lips and teeth, and not even I am crude enough to fashion an opening line out of that.  I glanced anxiously at the television and surreptitiously observed her bedraggled and windswept blonde hair, but I had been in the pub for hours and couldn’t be confident questioning the strength of the wind.

Eventually I caught sight of a neon blue sock on her right foot and my fashion senses were tingling.  How could I bring her socks into conversation?  It was all I could think of as I watched Sweden launch another attack on the Italian goal.  Then I noticed the top of a pink sock which had looked to have been swallowed by her left trainer.  She was wearing one blue sock and one pink sock.  This was it.  I had to ask her why she was doing that.  The woman she was talking to excused herself to go to the bathroom and I could feel my heart beat in the manner it does after I’ve eaten too much halloumi.

“Can I make what might seem like quite an unusual observation,” I began after a nervous mouthful of Tennents lager.  “It’s about your socks…”

“They’re odd?”  She responded, knowing exactly what I was thinking.  “They’re the only clean ones I could find.”

I struggled to hide my disappointment.  “Oh…I wondered if you were maybe making some kind of bold fashion statement.  Like my habit of matching the colour of my socks with my tie.”

I rolled up my trouser leg enough to let her see my bright yellow socks against the yellow with blue spots tie I was wearing.

“They’re not quite the same colour,” she probably correctly observed.  The fourth person to do so that day.

I wondered if I had made a huge misjudgment in firstly deciding to try to talk to this girl and secondly in thinking that it would be a good idea to open a conversation with an observation about socks, but she went on to mention how she recognised me from the bar a couple of weeks earlier.  She didn’t remember talking to me – fortunately – but she could recall seeing me with a group of friends that Friday.  I felt pleased that I somehow have an impressionable view from the back and commented on her unusual accent.  She explained that she is from Edinburgh – which explained the accent – and arrived in Oban a few weeks ago after deciding that her original destination of Fort William was dull. She announced that she was leaving to meet a friend and I asked her name as I extended a hand.  Her cold, nicotine scented fingers wrapped around my hand like winter and I knew that I would have to try and find some other ridiculous way to talk to her again.


The night I listened to The Joshua Tree

Maybe I am doing my Friday nights wrong when my abiding memory of the occasion is the walk home.  By any reasonable standard it was a pretty unremarkable walk home, too.  To even describe it as a walk is to give it more physical credence than it deserves, for it was more of an amble, really.  Like nearly every other Friday in history I ambled home from the pub alone, only this time I didn’t stumble into any bushes and there was no roadside retching.  It was unremarkable; so unremarkable that I am compelled to write 900 words about it.

Perhaps the only noteworthy event of this amble was my decision upon leaving Markies to forego my usual shuffled Spotify soundtrack in favour of a full play of The Joshua Tree, being that U2 will be performing the album in Dublin in five weeks.  Ordinarily the distance between the bar and my home would allow for me to hear the first four tracks (ie. ‘the hits’) of the 1987 classic, but last night I somehow heard The Joshua Tree one and a half times before I crashed through my front door, finishing up – ironically enough – on Running To Stand Still.

It’s difficult for me to place exactly how I managed to listen to approximately 75 minutes of a 50 minute record, let alone consider the geography of the feat.  There was a cooling summer breeze whispering in from the sea which tempered some of the humidity that lingered in the air as I plugged my music into my ear holes and began my odyssey with Where The Streets Have No Name – the song which, for me anyway, is the definitive U2 sound.  The opening 107 seconds of this track are my favourite of any U2 song, possibly any song.  It’s possible that I repeated this at least once, because I was barely onto I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For when I reached the station and procrastinated over whether or not I wanted to take a taxi home.  I saw what I was looking for at the rank, but I decided against another failed flirtation (it wouldn’t have been fair/fare) and continued homeward.

I found my mind begin to wander towards Croke Park as I snaked across Argyll Square.  I imagined the atmosphere as those loveable lads took to the stage in their home city to play their most loved – even if not their best – album.  Then I began to try to pre-plan my toilet/bar breaks.  This is an important part of the tactical consideration of attending a gig.  Usually a comfort stop between the support act and the headliner will suffice, but in a stadium gig in summer all bets are off.  I envisaged almost the entire stadium emptying in search of a portaloo after the four ‘hits’ at the start of the album, but I’m fond of the second half of The Joshua Tree and would be loathed to miss some of that rarely played material.

My playing of the album obviously mimicked my outlandishly drunken footsteps because I must have backtracked from Red Hill Mining Town to be listening to With Or Without you again as I journeyed up Combie Street towards the Parish church, which if you are familiar with Oban you will know as the Coriander church, and if you don’t know Oban:  it is the Coriander church.  

I love With Or Without You.  Chunks had just played it in Markies and it is a song which is very much present in my mind.  I am not ashamed to acknowledge that I was singing along quite emphatically with Bono as I approached the church (we had both reached the part just before the pained “oh oh oh ooooh” refrain) when I became very aware of a young female walking quite quickly to overtake me and power ahead.

I pulled out my earphones and called out after her.  “My singing can’t have been that bad!”

She turned to look at me, the street light acting as a spotlight on her.  “It was terrible,” she said, confirming what I know deep down to be true.  “But I love that you’re happy and don’t give a fuck.”

She carried on up the road and I walked through the church graveyard, returning this woefully, wonderfully melancholic song to my ears.

The walk up the hill from Millpark is the most difficult and longest part of the amble home.  It is where the majority of my backwards steps will occur and where most of those awkward to negotiate bushes lurk on the periphery of the pavement.  You could say that it is more than a One Tree Hill, but last night I sauntered up it unscathed, if a little slowly, and got most of my U2 listening in.

It was on the hill that the rain started.  Light to begin with, almost refreshingly light, until it began to tumble heavy and warm.  I was on Bullet The Blue Sky when I neared the top of the hill, chanting along with Hewson:  “One hundred!  Two hundred!”  The rain was seething from the dark sky in tandem with The Edge’s guitar riff and my grey suit had turned the colour of defeat.  I stormed through the front door and relieved myself of my jacket and rain slicked tie and collapsed onto my bed, earphones discarded in a drunken recognition that I wouldn’t need them as I sleep.

And then I woke up this morning, still half fucked from the beer and the Jack Daniels and the God forsaken Venom – such is the wonder of the internal body clock – and although I still hadn’t found what I was looking for I had that one memory of an especially long walk home listening to The Joshua Tree, and that was good enough for me.

A day in the life of a mango

I have long had an affection for the mango.  I love the way the word sounds and I enjoy how the fruit tastes.  If anything defies the popular belief that something that tastes so sweet and delicious can’t possibly be good for you, it is the mango.

My admiration for the tasty tropical treat is such that I once considered attempting to update William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet by replacing the character Romeo with a mango.  When I think back on that now it seems like a really bold and unnecessary gesture, but at the time it felt like it had reason.  What love can be more forbidden than that of a girl for a juicy stone fruit?

The way I viewed it, introducing the mango as Juliet’s love interest would have saved a significant amount of heartache and death.  While Juliet’s family might have struggled to come to terms with the reasons why she would become involved in a romantic relationship with a mango, you would feel certain that they wouldn’t wish death upon the mango, or indeed the tree it fell from.

The underlying theme of love conquering all in the story would still exist, and would perhaps even be enhanced by the boundaries between humans and fruit being challenged by Juliet and the mango.  However, I really struggled to come up with believable dialogue for the mango and this new version remains unwritten.

I still find myself wondering if mangoes are capable of having feelings.  It would be all too easy to enjoy a fleeting moment of delight with a mango, consume it and forget all about it as you return to your daily routine, but I can’t help but believe they are sensitive deep beneath that soft peel.  After all, if you have mishandled them they will bruise just like any person, so why wouldn’t they experience emotion?

Whether the mango has a full range of emotions is open to question.  I have often tried making witty observations in their company and have never received so much as a chortle in response, which may suggest that the mango doesn’t have a sense of humour – although I have frequently experienced this in the presence of people, too.  Though it is difficult to imagine that something so bright and beautiful isn’t capable of some form of joy, particularly when it brings such pleasure to others.

There is nothing to suggest that mangoes can contemplate the intricacies of Brexit (but then who can?) or that they would have the ability to weigh up the pros and cons of making a selection on Netflix (again, who can?) but I am convinced that they could appreciate Keats or Whitman, I believe that they can suffer the disappointment of being discarded in favour of a more fashionable fruit like papaya and I would be astonished if the mango isn’t aware of a desire to be wanted, like the character in the updated version of Romeo and Juliet.

So the next time you see a mango, savour its sweet scent and enjoy touching its tender skin, but remember that sometimes mangoes have feelings too.  

The day I couldn’t stay awake (aka Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls @ Usher Hall, Edinburgh)

I have previously noted on this blog how I have recently turned 33, and I have frequently written of my ill-formed habit of travelling on early morning trains with the previous night’s alcohol soaked activities weighing heavily on my body.  Those two variables aligned can very quickly lead to an outcome similar to that of a retired train – ie. it goes off the rails.

The official journey time on the 8.57 Oban to Glasgow is a little over three hours, but it feels a whole lot longer when you’ve been in Aulay’s until closing time the night before.  I feel I owe a multitude of my next day woes to that bar.  That’s generally alright, though, with 8.57 typically being considered by reasonable human beings to not be an appropriate time to start drinking beer, so there’s little option but to sleep off that hangover.

Train sleeping is a very difficult act to pull off for any decent amount of time, however.  It is not an environment that is conducive to rest and relaxation; the rattling and rolling is not something I am used to in my own bed.  And the need to contort your body into all manner of shapes and positions to get some semblance of comfort in that garishly patterned seat is rarely worthwhile when you are invariably jolted from your slumber by something you will never be able to identify and you awaken without even the vaguest awareness of where you might be.

So my journey into Glasgow was punctuated with brief dalliances with sleep and I arrived feeling no better or worse than I had when I started out however many hours earlier, which I feel has to go down as a victory.

The Auctioneers was the highest bidder in my search to find a bar near to Queen Street station to watch the Celtic game and whilst I can’t state it with any scientific distinction, it seems true to me that the best cure for a hangover is a beer.  Or watching a dramatic 4-3 Celtic win in a pub rammed full with Rangers fans.  Both had a dramatic effect on my spirits and I was ready to tackle the significantly less daunting train ride to Edinburgh.

I thought eating some soup and a sandwich on the way would help with my situation.  Maybe it did.  Perhaps it was the remarkable warmth on the train – which is unusual for ScotRail – that did it.  But from around Falkirk High onwards I was overwhelmed with a sudden onslaught of fatigue.  I couldn’t keep my eyes open and I was enjoying some fantastically lucid dreaming.  Before I knew it I could see Murrayfield Stadium and I knew we were approaching Haymarket; this journey had been effortless.  In little more than two minutes we would be in Edinburgh Waverley and I could begin pre-gig drinking.  Then I fell asleep.  Into so deep a slumber that it required a conscientious passenger to tap me on the shoulder as the train filled with passengers on the next service.  Who knows where I might have ended up if I hadn’t woken and disembarked before the train left.

I was fucked.  There’s no other way of saying it.  My eyes were heavy, my head was fuzzy and my body had all the willingness of a woman on the receiving end of one of my chat-up lines.  All I wanted to do was check into my hostel and go to bed, but that seemed about as socially acceptable at 3.45pm as drinking beer on the train at 8.57am would have been.  So I ventured out into the cold, breathless streets of Edinburgh in search of a bar to watch the scores come in and where I could tear up the coupon I had placed on in Glasgow.  But the capital is very much a rugby city, and of nigh upon a dozen bars I tried from the Cowgate to the Grassmarket each and every one of them was showing England vs Australia rather than Soccer Saturday.  Defeated and tired I retreated to the safe Solitude of Brewdog and struggled to keep myself awake over a pint of Santa Paws.

Ordinarily I adore the gothic magnificence of Edinburgh, but it’s fair to say that it wore thin on this visit.  The Scott Monument was cloaked by giant flashing ferris wheels and Princes Street was slower than my speed of thought, which was severley lacking at this point.  Walking out to Usher Hall on Lothian Road felt like an achingly arduous funeral procession under the haze of a million Christmas lights, only made worse by my foolish decision to buy a hot cider at the Christmas market.  This wasn’t how my Saturday was meant to be.

Shakespeare’s set the world a little closer to its natural axis, even if my amusement was largely gained from watching the growing frustration of one particular punter who wasn’t getting served at the very end of the bar,  The misfortune of others really shouldn’t bring a person any kind of joy, but when you’re sitting comfortably on your bar stool with a near-full pint in hand observing the puffing of cheeks and the petted lip it is difficult not to feel a glow of satisfaction radiate within.  At this point I felt vaguely human.

If there’s one gig that could enliven a person it is Frank Turner.  He embodies positive energy and his shows always produce a happy, sing along environment – even if these days it seems slightly more forced than it used to.  It is near impossible to leave a Frank Turner show and not feel better than you did two hours previously, but boy I gave it a darn good try.  I could barely raise my arms to clap on command or dance that terrible dance I dance.  I was tired, and as much as I wanted to hear the next song all I could think of was the gig being over and me getting some actual sleep in a proper bed.  It’s no way to live, but it was the only way to live.

Of course, as I write this on the train home – six hours earlier than intended – I’m wide awake and feel like I could probably drink until closing time again.