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.