Crumb of comfort

“Fucking Fenian bastards,” came the yelp, similar to the sound a dog makes when its tail has been stepped on, from the table near the entrance of the bar at around ten to five on a Sunday afternoon.  The phrase wasn’t entirely in keeping with the season of goodwill, either in tone or content, even if it was something that most of the people in the lounge in Aulay’s at the time would have worn as a badge of honour.  As it was, a simple congratulations or a heartfelt happy Christmas would have been more appropriate.

Celtic had just beaten Rangers 1-0 in the final of the 2019 Betfred Scottish League Cup, and tensions were as frayed as the red tinsel which was pinned to the walls.  The atmosphere had grown heated and was ripe for dispute, the way a game of charades turns on Christmas night after hours spent drinking beer and gin through the day. Accusations of various folk being “a fucking clown” were being hurled back and forth across the decorative gold stars which were dangling from the shelf over the bar, and it was clear that no-one knew if it was a book, a film or a theatre production. 

The pub wasn’t as busy as many might have thought it would be for the football, a case either of supporters deciding to watch the game at home, the wild weather acting as a deterrent or people taking to heart the seasonal Ramones song Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight).  The game was largely one-sided, with Rangers having so many chances that it seemed it would only be a matter of time before they scored, and for much of it I was feeling relieved to have the stars on the bar obstructing my view of the television.  The Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster produced a string of saves to keep the ball out of his net, and the longer the match went the less likely it seemed that he was going to let anything past him.  In that regard, he was proving as impenetrable to the Rangers attack as any woman I had ever attempted to talk to was to my charm.

On the final whistle, the vocal viewer in the corner belched his disapproval, his face contorted with fury and the colour of a Christmas tree bauble, but most everybody else was too triumphant to notice.  It was a scene not completely unlike the one I would find myself part of at the Christmas market in Edinburgh a few days later.  There were fairground rides and stalls the length of Princes Street Gardens, offering everything from crepes, fish and chips, sausages, gyros, cheese, beer, gin and mulled wine to crafts, toys, soaps, picture frames and authentic maps from the 1800s.  Feeling hungry, I spent five pounds on a German bratwurst which was almost as long as my forearm.  It was difficult to tell what it was about the sausage that distinguished it as being German, particularly once it had been doused with French mustard, but I felt good about holding it in my hand all the same.  It gave me the same sense of self-assurance that I had for years when I was a smoker.  I never felt as confident about eating a large sausage in public as I did about holding it, however, and it was a struggle to find a place where I could stand with my back to the swathes of festive market-goers, somewhere that I wouldn’t be seen trying to squeeze the end of a bratwurst into my mouth without leaking mustard onto my Cashmere scarf.

Everywhere I turned there were young families, groups of adventuring friends and romancing couples enjoying the spoils of the season, smiling and laughing merrily in one another’s company, while I was standing alone in the middle of it all, trying to get to grips with the geometry of a meat sandwich.  I felt like I was in a Smiths song, having all the appearance of the crumbs of toast that end up in the tub of butter, little dark stragglers in amongst the smooth, creamy goodness;  you just know that they don’t belong.  I was the crumb in the butter, the Rangers fan in the pub railing against fucking Fenian bastards.  

Things were much more sedate the following afternoon when I went to cast my vote in the General Election after arriving home from Glasgow on a train which had been delayed by forty-five minutes.  The reason for the delay, we were eventually told, was a “train fault”, which struck me when it was announced as being like a butcher who describes his missing thumb as being a cleaver fault.  It went without saying and didn’t really tell anybody anything.  I got off the train and dropped my bag off in my flat before heading across the road to my nearest assigned polling station, which I was visiting for the first time since I became a single occupant in the area.  The hall was positioned directly behind the parish church which I had often seen tourists stop to photograph from just outside my living room window, though as I was approaching the wide-open doors of the community centre it didn’t feel like I was walking towards a much-captured landmark, like the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower.

After navigating a myriad of doors, though it could have been no more than three, I was inside the main hall of the building, which had hardwood flooring like a basketball court.  My depth perception was challenged as the room was laid out before me.  A few feet from the doorway was a long black table, behind which were sitting three women who were ageless and looking as though they were simply waiting for something to happen.  I imagined that it was probably like walking onto the set of a television talent contest, only I didn’t know what my talent was supposed to be and the three judges didn’t have a clue who I was.  I handed my polling card over to the first woman, who studied it as though I was eighteen and trying to buy a bottle of White Lightning.  She leaned over and whispered something to the second woman, and I was wondering if she had noticed a dubious stain on my black Cashmere scarf and the pair of them were mocking me in that camp, theatrical TV way.  

A moment of worry lingered in the air before the first woman turned to the other and said, “that’s off Glencruitten.  One hundred.”  As the second of the judges ran a ruler down a clipboard laden with paper, the first woman turned her eyes up to me where I stood at the front of the table.  “Just for security purposes, could you tell me your name?” I panicked.  I had no idea there would be revision needed for this.  I couldn’t remember which name was printed on the polling card I had just handed over to the officials; whether it was my full name, which had been born from indecisive parents, or just the first half, which at various points in my life a small selection of people had referred to me by.  All I could do was imagine the shame of giving the wrong name to the judges and being eliminated at the first hurdle of the television talent contest.  To break the deadlock, I took a gamble and went with my full Sunday name, which seemed even greater of a risk in the Church of Scotland hall, but nobody seemed to notice.

The third woman, seated at the far end of the table, tore a sheet of paper from her own clipboard and handed it to me.  “One box, one cross.”  It was like I was going to confession.

At the polling booth, which had four sides and could have used some decoration to brighten the mood, there was a shelf to rest your ballot paper on, and a small pencil which was attached to the station with a piece of string, presumably as a security measure.  It seemed unusual that after the millions of pounds spent pushing shiny campaign leaflets from every party through everyone’s letterbox for six weeks that there would be such concern over losing the odd pencil, and I wondered if at some point, probably during the 1980s, there was a spate of people walking into polling stations and stealing the pencils, stalking away shiftily whilst trying to avoid making eye contact with the judges.

There were four names on the ballot paper for Argyll & Bute, and it didn’t take very long to study them and make a decision.  In many ways, it was similar to my experience of walking up to the bar in Brass Monkey twenty-four hours earlier, where almost all of the beers they were serving on draught were unfamiliar to me.  There was a heady and dizzying selection before me, each one seemingly no different to the other.  Regardless of which one I went for, it was likely that there would be a profound effect, one way or another.  In the end, it seemed wisest to go with what I knew, the option which would bring the least terrible hangover the next day, and I folded up my paper and slipped it into the ballot box. 

Christmas party season was well underway by the time I was next in Aulay’s, where in the public bar a renowned accordion player marked the occasion with a rendition of the Bruce Springsteen song I’m On Fire.  It was a different sort of racket from the previous time I was there.  In the lounge bar, the jukebox was broken, like reaching into your stocking on Christmas morning and finding not even a lump of coal, but a voucher for a future delivery of coal, and there was nothing to drown out the festive fare from next door.  Standing at the other side of the icebox from me was a bloke who had ordered two glasses of rum and coke for himself, having eventually been prompted by the barman into remembering which type of rum he had been drinking.  He was a tall figure, with a jolly belly which was barely concealed by a t-shirt which was the same colour as snow when it has turned to slush.  I was studying the scene, wondering why the man would be ordering two single measures of the same drink, when he edged closer to me.

“It’s pretty bad when I can’t even remember what I’m drinking,” he said, his voice much softer than his appearance.

“Or it’s a sign of a good night,” I sourced a response from my well of experience.

Though it turned out that the man hadn’t been having such a good night when he took the opportunity to tell me that he had been in the pub drinking since eleven in the morning and had missed the last train home to Fort William at six o’clock.  He was waiting for a friend who was going to give him a place to stay for the night arriving on the train travelling from the opposite direction, and he decided that the best way of spending his time was to carry on drinking.  He seemed to be at ease with his predicament, while I was trying to determine in my mind if a forty-five-minute delay in Crianlaich was a train fault, then would completely missing the last train home be a rum fault?

The wayward traveller returned to his table, which was positioned beside the fruit machine, and I was shortly joined by the Brexit Guy, who had recently returned from a trip to Colombia and had the same skin tone as a turkey on Christmas Day.  Over pints of the familiar Tennent’s Lager and a shot of Cointreau, he regaled me with tales of his escapades in South America.  I was never sure if it was envy or the memory of my brother’s dispute with him over Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, but I always had a hard time accepting his stories about beautiful young Latin women who swooned over older white men because they saw anyone who could spend £25 on a meal as being wealthy and exciting.  But I indulged them all the same, thinking that they had to be more entertaining to hear than my own fables about the German sausage at the Christmas market in Edinburgh, or the way that the bus I boarded in the city had the noticeable fragrance of the minty oral spray that mostly older men carried.

As the two of us got ourselves further into the festive spirit with yet more lager, the conversation deepened to reflect on Brexit Guy’s experiences with the NHS:  the chronic staff shortages, the lack of experience, the idea that samples of blood were taken by taxi from Oban to Glasgow, at a cost of hundreds of pounds a time, because there was neither the facility nor the skill to test them locally.  The more we talked his passion on the subject was evident, and the more absurd it seemed that earlier that morning the United Kingdom had returned a government which had overseen nine years of cuts to the health service.  After everything has been said, maybe we’re all just crumbs of toast in somebody else’s butter?

You say Elyounoussi, I say Elhamed

When I returned to Oban from my trip to Budapest, everything was just as I had left it five days earlier.  The entire flat had a chill in the air, in keeping with the dipping September temperatures, and in the kitchen sink there was a cup three quarters filled with stale dishwater and topped with a ringed coffee stain a few inches from the rim, like the tidal mark you find on the walls by the sea.  A damp red and white striped tea towel which had questionable shades of grey was lying discarded on the kitchen counter. The scene was one you might expect to find if someone had been called away to attend to a drastic emergency; news of an accident or a kidnapping.  I was reminded that I had left in a rush that Monday morning to catch the early bus, and immediately I was back in the old routine of cursing my decisions.

It was the longest I had been away from home since I became a single occupant more than a year earlier, and it seemed like a weird sensation the way that it felt as though I was moving into a new place all over again.  In my absence, the surface of the oak flooring had gathered small pockets of dust and other unidentifiable debris in areas, while the whole place carried the scentless smell of somewhere that has been uninhabited for a while.  After a few hours of procrastination, I unpacked my rucksack of all the things I had taken with me, many of which I didn’t need anyway, and I tried to figure out where they should go.  

The washing machine was soon filled with a week’s worth of travel wear, and my next mission was to visit the supermarket to replenish my supplies of milk, fruit and food.  I had arrived home to a fridge which was as empty as the day I moved in, with the exception of a tub of butter and a jar of Dijon mustard which was looking as tired as I was feeling.  Everything else had been used up in a mad dash before I flew to Hungary, the result of an inherent mistrust that food wouldn’t possibly keep to its expiration date if I wasn’t around to check on its health every time I opened the fridge door, as though the remaining portion of cheese, a bottle of milk and packet of meatballs would reunite to get one over me by spoiling when I wasn’t there.

Oban Distillery on the morning of 21 September

Nine months had passed since the idea of me reading in front of an audience had been conceived as a joke amongst friends, the thought being that the most socially awkward of us would sit before a gathering of people at The Rockfield Centre’s monthly open mic night dressed smartly in a suit and read stories of ineptitude from his notebook while someone else played a ridiculous instrument in the background, like the triangle or the panpipes, and no-one would quite be able to decide if the entire act was deliberately absurd or just a complete shambles.  As it turned out, nobody in our group owned a triangle, and our attempt at an artistic exhibition went the way of all of my romantic endeavours and I was left to perform as a solo act.   

Even though I had only done it on a handful of occasions, I had recently been invited to read at the launch of the local acoustic duo The Blue Moon Traveller’s new album, and despite the ferocious anxiety which greets me when I attempt to do anything in front of other people, I accepted the offer.  By the time I arrived home from my trip to Budapest, there was less than a week to prepare for the big night and I was trying to keep myself as occupied as possible in an effort to hold my nerves at bay.  I cooked a large pot of goulash, making use of some of the paprika I had brought back from Great Market Hall, and the aroma of spiced beef and potato and carrot was clinging to the washing and everything else in the flat for days.  Later I participated in the pub quiz in The Lorne and watched the latest two IT movies, which between them totalled more than five hours in run time and distraction time. 

Although we had made an unremarkable start in the first two rounds, our team, which was as much three ladies and a tramp as it was The Unlikely Lads, was developing an increasing confidence that we were about to experience our breakthrough pub quiz victory when we scored a maximum of 18 points from the round of questions on Hungary.  The tremendous gain saw us surge into joint-first place at the halfway point, and we were finding it easy to visualise our eventual win, the moment when our little breakaway outfit would finally be rewarded with a £25 bar voucher.  A wave of excitement and optimism was sweeping across the table, along with waves of Tennent’s Lager down our throats, but I was struggling to get over a blunder I had made in the previous general knowledge round which I feared could be the Vesuvius question repeating itself all over again.

The silver-haired host had asked us to name the nationality of a footballer Celtic had recently signed, and I snatched the pen from a team-mate’s hand with the assuredness that only a person who knows the answer can legitimately display.  I wrote Israeli on the corresponding line and took a mouthful of beer to congratulate myself on my contribution.

When the answer sheet was returned to us after it had been marked at the end of the round there wasn’t a tick next to the word Israeli, and I was wondering how the quizmaster could possibly have made such a mistake.  I was listening with interest as he went through the questions once more, this time revealing the correct answers alongside them. Eventually he reached the one I was desperate to hear.

“What nationality is the Celtic player Mohamed Elyounoussi?”

I realised immediately what had gone wrong.  In my exuberance, I had misheard the name Mohamed as Elhamed, ignored the rest of the question, and taken it to be in reference to Hatem Abd Elhamed, the Israeli international footballer, rather than Mohamed Elyounoussi, the Norwegian.  I was kicking myself, and the longer the quiz developed into a three-way fight for the prize, the more I was worrying that my error, which was the equivalent of lunging in with a two-footed tackle in footballing terms, was going to cost us.

In the end, it wasn’t only hearing the name of the Celtic international which proved to be our downfall.  In the slim 3 point defeat, we also failed to identify which musician collaborated with Michael Jackson on his song The Girl Is Mine, or calculate the total numerical value of three Scrabble tiles, amongst other cracks in our pub quiz knowledge.

The Michael Jackson tree, outside the hotel in Budapest where his fans gathered hoping to see him during his stay there in 1993

We finished joint-second, and although the win we desired would have to wait another while yet, we were in the mood to celebrate our achievement, or nearly achievement, so we walked round to Aulay’s for one last drink to end the night.  As we were approaching the doors to the lounge bar it occurred to me how I had spent countless nights inside the pub hoping to find female company and it would never happen, with tales of failure becoming my thing, like wearing matching socks, ties and pocket squares, when all around me there were people meeting other people and being happy about it.  This time I was about to stride into the bar with three women who most people would kill to be seen with, and I couldn’t help but feel smug about it.  The door opened with the kind of dramatic swing you would ordinarily see on the silver screen, and the four of us walked inside to find the bar completely empty.  I would have been as well walking in with Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney for all anyone would see or care about it.

My efforts to distract me from any nerves I might have been feeling about my forthcoming reading led me to binge-watching the two newest IT movies over two nights.  I had never felt much of an inclination to see the 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s book about a murderous clown until I was invited to the cinema to view the newly-released second chapter with my friend who constructs sandwiches, her sister and her sister’s boyfriend.  I was asked to go along as a friend who could be grabbed and punched at the arrival of any particularly frightening scenes, and that was enough to have me searching my subscription streaming services for the first film.  Even if my awareness of what was happening was flimsy at best, it seemed that the least I could do would be to make an effort to familiarise myself with the story, sort of like when someone in a passing car is enthusiastically waving at you and you can’t fathom who it is, but you give a conciliatory gesture in case it is someone you know.

When I arrived at the Oban Phoenix Cinema on Friday night with a bottle of Coca-Cola which had its chemical balance transformed by seven 25ml measures of Jack Daniels I was considering how I was surely the least likely figure a person would turn to in the situation of anxiety caused by scenes from a horror film, or anything, really.  It would be like crafting a scarecrow out of seeds and fat balls.  Nevertheless, I was happy to be invited, even if the second chapter didn’t produce nearly as many scares as I would have liked.  Indeed, the most harrowing part of the three-hour movie came after around ninety minutes when I had finished my stash of Jack Daniels and coke and I found myself in an increasingly desperate need for the toilet.  I was reluctant to leave my seat through fear of missing a truly terrifying scene and failing in my role as a stress punch bag for the night, so I valiantly held out until the closing credits.  The feeling of relief was one I had rarely experienced.

On the last Saturday of summer, the sky was a sapphire blue shade and the clouds had been scared off by a vibrant warm sun.  At station square the final producers’ market of the season was taking place, where there was on offer an abundance of local meats, cheeses, handcrafted goods and talk of how it was a good day for it.  It made for a busy scene by the glowing harbour.  I was walking aimlessly through the bustle, free of my usual weekend hangover but filled with the growing recognition that later I would have to read in front of an audience.  Even a killer clown couldn’t save me now.

Despite having lived in Oban for all of my thirty-five years, I had never been inside the Oban Distillery, where the town’s most famous and most popular export had been produced since it was built in 1794.  It occurred to me that this would probably be like living in New York City all your life and never seeing the Empire State Building, or being a Parisian who had never stood next to the Eiffel Tower.  My whisky of choice wasn’t even Oban Malt.  It was always Jameson, which I supposed made me like the Italian who prefers the Mona Lisa to The Last Supper:  I enjoyed the local product, but I liked it better when it was bottled elsewhere.

A placard the day after the Global Climate Strike in Oban

Although I had never been on the inside of a whisky barrel, my first impression of the interior of the bar at the Oban Distillery was that it was probably quite similar to drinking inside an old cask.  The intoxicating fragrance of malt barley was hanging in the air, to some the very essence of love itself, while everything in the place was wooden. The flooring was oak, the bar, the tables, the seating, the walls were all made from wood.  At £5 for a bottle of Guinness Hop House 13, even the prices wouldn’t bend.

As well as the microphones on the stage, gathered around it was an array of audio and visual recording equipment, the sum of which was probably similar to the number of people who had previously listened to me read.  If the price of a bottle of beer hadn’t already made me feel queasy, then the constant stream of people entering the room was really making me nervous.  The bar was beginning to fill up with folk I recognised, some I sort of recognised, a couple of former work colleagues, but mostly with people who I didn’t know at all.  By the time the evening got underway, there were around a hundred spectators squeezed into the whisky barrel, and I was feeling sick over it.

A small group of regulars from the Let’s Make A Scene open mic nights were in attendance, and it was the Czech marine biologist who didn’t have a ticket but who had blagged her way in who I remember talking to first.  She complimented me on my suit, and nothing made me dissolve into a puddle of self-deprecation like someone saying something nice about me or my choice of outfit, especially when it was a woman with an accent.  I thanked her and proceeded to list all the things I had made a special effort to do on that day for the occasion of reading aloud to people I mostly didn’t know.  “I thought it would be a good idea to shower for a change.  I trimmed my stubble.  I decided that I would comb my hair.”  I couldn’t pinpoint precisely where it had happened, but I knew that I had said too much.  “Please…don’t give me any more details,” she said as she walked away towards the oak bar.  

Before The Blue Moon Travellers could perform the first of their two sets of the evening, we were provided with a safety demonstration by an employee of the Oban Distillery.  He informed us that as the place was still a functioning whisky distillery there was a possibility that something could go horrendously wrong and some piece of machinery could explode during the single occupant’s performance, and if you need to make an emergency exit, either in the event of physical disaster or emotional catastrophe, the fire exit is located here.  Or at least that is what I heard him say.

The more I watched Jim and Sheila of The Blue Moon Travellers handle their initial set of cover material with grace and professionalism, the more I was worrying that I was in over my head.  Sheila’s voice owned the room, while Jim’s guitar playing was so good that even my brother commented on it, and he had never mentioned anyone’s string plucking in Oban.  As the duo were nearing the end of their first performance of the night, it was all I could do to go to the bathroom and seek refuge in the unblemished porcelain surroundings.  I wasn’t feeling sick enough to throw up, but I always liked to pee right before I was due to read, if only to give me one thing less to worry about.  I took the only free urinal at the far left of the trio, and all of a sudden the thing that I was most nervous about getting out from within me wasn’t my words.

Before I knew it, I went from performing to a theatre of one at the urinal to sitting in front of a room of around a hundred people, trying to juggle my thick navy blue notebook in one hand with a green plastic party tumbler filled with Chilean Merlot in the other.  The choice of drinks ware was intended as a joke to accompany the piece I was reading, but the only joke turned out to be my attempt at turning the pages of my book without spilling red wine on the dry white sheets.  The chair felt as though it was the tallest I had ever sat on, rising so far from the ground that my feet could barely touch the oak floor.  I was like a toddler who was reading to an audience of adults for the first time, and after the opening couple of paragraphs, I was forced to rest the wine on an out-of-reach wooden ledge, as much for the sake of my trousers as for comfort.  It was the first time I read without the stage crutch of alcohol. 

From the tall seat behind the microphone, the only sound I could hear was the constant chatter which rustled across the room from the bar like a golden leaf down an empty street.  To me it sounded like everybody in the place was talking during my set, and although I was later told that the noise was only coming from the bar area, it was unsettling.  Still, I persevered with reading my material, like a drunk who is determined to walk home despite everyone insisting that he takes a taxi, and I was feeling hopeful as I approached the point where I was going to make a second public attempt at performing my favourite joke.  

I had once before read the story about the red-haired former barmaid in Aulay’s and how she on more than one occasion advised me that I should receive lessons in how to talk to women, which in turn led me to seek out a self-help book in Waterstones on the subject of talking to women, but it was proving difficult to find and so I approached a sales assistant and asked her to assist me in locating the self-help section, and the punchline received little reaction.  This time there was around a hundred people in attendance, and I was hoping that at least two or three of them would give me the laugh I had been craving.  I told the story again, and for a moment, even the sound of chatter from the bar fell silent.

Despite having to endure the farce of sitting through my own round of applause after I had finished reading because I had forgotten to mention my Diaries of a single man Facebook page and I wanted to get the plug in, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself after I gave up the stage for The Blue Moon Travellers to showcase songs from their new album Into The Blue.  The relief was unlike anything I had ever experienced, greater even than when everyone else had vacated the urinals earlier in the night.  As the night developed, I was approached by a clutch of people who wanted to tell me how much they had enjoyed my piece, and once again I was feeling awkward in dealing with compliments.  If there was one thing that made me nervous more than reading to an audience, it was having to actually talk to people.

Firstly a woman walked up to me as I was finishing the last dregs of the bottle of Chilean Merlot.  She was sweet and humble, and I had actually noticed her amongst the crowd when I was performing my reading.  I thanked her for her kind words and told her that she had caught my eye from the stage because she reminded me of Beetlejuice.  The woman seemed affronted, her eyes narrowed with a look that was a cross between confusion and annoyance, the kind I might have flashed at the pub quiz when our answer sheet was returned without a tick next to Israeli.  I noticed the woman’s displeasure and clarified my comment, assuring her that I was referring to her shirt, which had black and white stripes like the suit worn by the character in the Tim Burton movie, and not to her hair, which was not white and unruly.  Even the friends in my company couldn’t believe what they were hearing.

Later I found myself in conversation with a woman whose hair was the colour of Chardonnay, uncorked it flowed past her shoulders and over a scarf which was presumably worn for purposes of fashion rather than warmth.  I noticed that her fingernails were the colour of the Parma Violets sweets that I could remember from childhood, though at the time I couldn’t recall where I had seen the colour, and it was impossible to concentrate on talking to her when I was so distracted by that absent detail.

Despite my inability to communicate in a normal manner with people, the night was one of the most triumphant I had experienced.  I was feeling flattered and even happy with the way things had gone, as though I had achieved something. It was a good feeling, but even after it all, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Beetlejuice remark.  I could have said anything else in that moment and it would have been better; I could even have asked her the nationality of the Celtic player Mohamed Elyounoussi.

Links and things:

Wake me up when this September playlist ends: my Spotify playlist for the month of September

For those without access to Spotify, the following are the two most significant songs from the last month.

I will never be able to hear the Guns N’ Roses song Don’t Cry again without thinking of a wildly drunken Hungarian man in a bar in Budapest:

Digging for diamonds at the bottom of the sea…

The Blue Moon Travellers can be found on Facebook here.
I will be reading from my notebook at the Rockfield Community Centre on Saturday 26 October. Full event details can be found here.

The night of the jukebox consternation

Although with spring the days were growing longer and lighter, they were also becoming lonelier.  It seemed that in the last year I have become a lot like the Conservative Party, in that I have developed a difficult relationship with May.  If it is true that April showers bring May flowers, then I should be expecting to inherit a lot more houseplants for me to kill in the coming months.

Recently I have been substituting an absence of actual friendships for imagined acquaintances I’ve been making in the street.  These relationships were not random in the conventional sense, in so much as the people involved were strangers who I had been passing on my way through the town on a near daily basis for several months.  There comes a point when you are seeing the same people every day that in your mind you start to feel like you already know them.  Even though you only see them for those same few seconds each day, you begin to build a story of their routine in your head.

There is the man who is shaped like a large free range egg.  I pass him almost every morning when he is carrying two or three shopping bags which for some reason I always imagine are filled with those packs of a dozen rolls.  I have yet to figure out why a person would need so many rolls, but the timing of our meetings suggest that he is the first person in the supermarket when it opens and that he empties the entire bakery section of rolls, therefore depriving everyone else.  This has caused me to take an immediate dislike to the character, which no matter how harsh it seems, I have been sticking to rigidly.

At the station, a woman gets off the bus from out of town at the same time each day.  She is usually quite smartly dressed in a long skirt and heels, and her professional attire leads me to think that she probably works in an office, though her hair sometimes has an indescribable quality which reminds me of a scarecrow.  Often she is seen carrying a cotton bag over her shoulder, the type one might keep clothes pegs in.  Silently I judge this, as it doesn’t really match anything that she is wearing.  The first thing she does after disembarking from the bus is to light a cigarette, I expect probably more out of an addiction to nicotine than from the treacherous rush hour bus journey through Oban.  I have never seen the woman without a cigarette in her hand, and it is usually a pretty good indicator of how early or late I am for work by how much of it she has smoked.

On a morning at the end of April, a large lorry was taking up an entire lane of a road which straggles off the square as it was unloading a delivery to one of the nearby shops.  The cigarette smoking scarecrow was finding it difficult to cross the road due to her inability to see any oncoming traffic in the other lane.  From the side of the road that she was hoping to reach, I could see that there were no cars approaching and I crossed with confidence.  As I reached the lorry I looked at the stranded smoker, and feeling secure enough in our imagined friendship to attempt actual communication, I assured her that “it’s alright to cross, you’re safe.”  The smoker didn’t seem to have reached the same stage in our relationship, though, and she smiled out of the other side of her cigarette, in a way that said I don’t know who you are.

It was the same look of ignorance that I imagined the charity collectors for the National Deaf Children’s Society saw on my face later in the week.  They had been stationed outside Boots for several days, though I had not passed them due to my habit of walking on the opposite side of the street, which is closest to the sea.  When I found myself striding towards them on Friday evening, I had beers on my mind and my music was turned up loud in my ears.  As I was approaching the donation-seeking duo I could see the woman’s lips moving as she held up her hand in an effort to attract my attention.  I waved in return whilst mouthing the word “sorry” as I continued to walk on by.

A display in Poppies Garden Centre, near Oban, put me in mind of the phrase “April showers bring May flowers.”

Later on Friday the local amateur football club Oban Saints were playing in their first major final as they contested the West of Scotland Amateur Cup in Hamilton.  The public bar in Aulay’s was packed full of sports fans cheering on the team from afar, as the match was broadcast live on the big screen thanks to the efforts of the entrepreneurial local startup Oban Live Streams.  It was a rare sight to see everyone in the bar cheering for the same team, rather than against Celtic.

Things were looking hopeful early in the second-half when Saints marched into a 2-1 lead, and although the promise of victory didn’t last long, the town threatened to have a new hero when Cameron Hill scored his second goal to make it 3-3 and take the final to extra-time.  The goalscorer’s name was being chanted around Aulay’s by drink wet voices, though eventually the valiant effort of the local team succumbed to Bannockburn AFC in the additional thirty minutes and the final ended 6-3.

In the lounge bar, the plant doctor and I had each contributed £1 to the jukebox in order to have our preferred playlist of songs heard.  The usual mix of The Smiths, Neil Young, and R.E.M. serenaded the humming bar, and the plant doctor and I greatly enjoyed our selections.  After around twenty-five minutes of musical bliss, the jukebox returned to playing a random mix of music, as it does when there are no other songs waiting to be played.  The first song it played after our £2 outlay was a Punjabi track which had a hint of the sound of Shakira.  It turned out to be a favourite of the Polish scientist with a moniker, and the plant doctor and I were left feeling umbrage and considering the fairness of the jukebox system.

Despite the incident with the jukebox, we returned to Aulay’s on Saturday, where we watched Celtic win their eighth consecutive Scottish Premier League title.  The noise which roared from the public bar any time Aberdeen threatened to score suggested that, as ever, there was a significant majority hoping to see Celtic lose, which only made the victory more enjoyable.  I had grown up in the nineties, when seeing Celtic win a trophy, let alone a league title, seemed about as likely as me finding the company of a woman on a Saturday night does now.  These days when Celtic win are not to be taken for granted, and they are celebrated with pure joy when they come around.

In Markie Dans, there were celebrations of a different sort.  The dancefloor was pulsing with a wedding party, and one particular woman who was dressed in a becoming ghostly white dress had caught my eye.  I thought that I could dance closer to her, hopeful that my moves would attract her attention, but before I could so much as sway my hips in her direction, she was gone.  Like an apparition in the night, she had vanished in the blink of an eye.  At the end of the night, I was left to go home to the solace of yet more imaginary relationships without finding the company of a woman on a Saturday night.  Some things never change.

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 week I couldn’t sleep (aka The day Celtic won the cup)

While most people seem to judge their lives in terms of achievements, career progression, meeting the right person and raising a family, making important contributions to the community, bringing joy to the lives of others, being a good dancer, having an involvement in a major scientific breakthrough that will benefit generations of people, creating a beautiful piece of art, earning the respect of their peers or donating an organ my only wish – the only thing I want to achieve in my life right now – is to be able to sleep for one night.  Or to at least remember to replace the Nivea Deep Cleaning Face Wash before I get into my shower in the morning and realise that it is empty.  Whichever comes first.

This paradox of my morning routine is in stark contrast to the scene in the cupboard under the kitchen sink, where as well as there being a full bottle of washing up liquid there are also two other bottles which each have a small amount of luminous liquid loitering around the bottom, like a drunk who refuses to leave at closing time.  These bottles exist as a constant reminder that despite there being the joy of preparing a freshly cooked meal from scratch and sitting down to enjoy eating it, there will always be the mess to clean up afterwards.  It is a lot like life in a nutshell – almost literally, although those seem easier to wash away than my signature pasta sauce.

In the past week or so my body has forgotten how to sleep.  Or at least how to stay asleep for longer than twenty-six minutes.  I am not sure when this happened, but I was most aware of it on Monday night when, despite going to bed feeling extremely drained and tired, I lay awake for the entire night until my alarm sounded at 6.10am.  I could feel my heart racing as though I had just finished a marathon – or, because I am not sure how it feels to have run a marathon, taken a brisk walk to the pub.  My mind would not settle and my thoughts raced through an entire catalogue of events in my life.  I became increasingly restless amongst my white 200 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets and it was the most physical activity my bed has seen in some considerable time.

As the week progressed and I was functioning on night after night of broken sleep I tried different methods to see if I could find something that would help me slumber.  I played music, but this only resulted in me wanting to queue songs I wanted to listen to and so I found a six-hour playlist titled ‘Night Rain’ which I thought would be relaxing, though it only had the effect of convincing me that I needed the toilet and at one point I laid staring at the ceiling wondering if I should erect a canopy over my bed.  On Tuesday I believed that whisky would be a good idea and that it would solve all of my troubles, because it usually does, but I only ended up awake and drunk.  On other nights I tried positioning myself on the other side of the bed; pretending that I didn’t really want to sleep at all, in the hope that it would trick my mind; counting sheep – although they wouldn’t stay still and they all looked the same and this led to me becoming frustrated; laying on top of the sheets, but it seems this only works in the Travelodge and when I am fully clothed.

Despite a miserable week and a lack of sleep I was looking forward to Saturday and the Scottish Cup final, which turned out to be a day where Celtic achieved something which had never been done before in Scottish football when they won a second consecutive domestic treble.  Through the week I had been considering how my memories of cup final Saturdays are similar to the way that everybody remembers the days from their youth, when everything seemed better and it was almost always sunny.  I have extremely vague memories of seeing the 1988 cup final, though I certainly remember the Joe Miller final the following year and watching it on a portable television in the back garden with the sun blazing.  On the morning of the 1995 final I walked up to my favourite teacher at the St. Columbas primary school sale of work and told him that Celtic would win, and he was sceptical because he was older and Celtic hadn’t won a trophy for six years.  I was reminded of this exchange when I considered how much easier it was to attend the sale of work and eat homemade cake and buy second-hand books than it is as an adult dealing with the hangover from Friday night and having to get yourself to the pub in time for kick-off.  After Celtic beat Airdrie in ’95 I went out into the garden in my home kit and kicked a football around and pretended that I was Pierre van Hooijdonk.  Following the game on Saturday I couldn’t even spell Pierre van Hooijdonk.

Now that I am an adult with my own place I decided that I would try to initiate something of a cup final tradition when I invited my father and brother around for coffee and beer and a Scotch pie before we went to watch the game.  In an effort to try and replicate my experience of eating a pie at Celtic Park I hid the bottle of brown sauce earlier in the day so that I would be forced to conduct an increasingly desperate search for it as my pie cooled, but my flat is very small and it didn’t take me very long at all to deduce that I had placed it in the bathtub.

We walked along to Aulay’s some time after two o’clock and the sun was exactly as it was in each of those childhood memories.  It was a beautiful day.  As we approached the bar there were rumours circulating that another pub in town had been charging customers £12 to watch the Royal Wedding with a slice of cake and a glass of Prosecco and although, like all bar stories, it sounded too ridiculous to be true, it occupied our minds and distracted from any cup final nerves.  With kick-off approaching the pub began to fill with more Motherwell fans than I have ever seen in my life, although they looked distinctly like some of the people who occupy the same spot on Old Firm games.  One older man who had ushered himself next to me became increasingly agitated as Celtic rushed into a two-goal lead and complained bitterly each time Motherwell were penalised for a foul.  He left at half-time.

After the game finished and the pub became sparse and the post-match celebrations were diluted by a switch to the FA Cup final, a very pleasant Danish couple appeared, as if by magic, and bought us a pint of beer because “we’re on holiday.”  I was struck by this generosity and probably made them immediately regret it when I indulged them in conversation for half an hour.  His grey stubble looked like sand on a moonlit beach and his wife wore glasses which were comically large, but they seemed a nice pairing nonetheless.  I learned that they were in Scotland for some conference in Edinburgh next Friday and they left before I could get any more information.

The night wore on like a crumpled and creased shirt, and by the time we returned to Aulay’s after eating dinner the beer was weighing heavily in my stomach like the thoughts in my mind which had been keeping me awake all week.  I switched to Jack Daniels and coke and then Jack Daniels Honey and lemonade, which although – or probably because – it is essentially diabetes in a glass, gave me a second wind.  Despite this I was preparing to blow the final whistle on the day around 11pm and was feeling a lot like the football must have felt when Callum McGregor hammered it into the top corner around eight hours earlier.  However, I learned that a friend who I was quite eager to see was also out in the bars and it was no earlier than 2am when I finally returned home, although I had not connected with her as I was hoping.  I drank another beer on the couch and listened to the Whiskeytown album Faithless Street before I went to bed and fell asleep straight away.  It is too early to say if I have achieved what I want from life and my insomnia has been cured, but when I woke up this morning with my stomach churning and my head banging like a Taylor Hawkins solo I at least had another sunny memory, blurred as it was, to cling to.

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 last few days of the year

The week between Christmas and New Year is a festive hinterland where nobody ever truly knows what the date is or even which day it is.  The days blend into one another; one food coma followed by another hangover and eventually it feels like all your days are stuck together like thin, sweaty slices of prosciutto.  You go to bed at 4am and then wake up and suddenly another day is sort of just happening and you’re sitting in the cold rain at Celtic Park watching a 0-0 draw with Rangers.

When I stepped onto the Glasgow bound train at what seemed like the end of last week it was preceded by eight days of festive imbibement and yet another night which had spilled over into the early hours of the following day.  There had been a winter-like dusting of snow overnight and, after many weeks of resistance, my body had finally succumbed to the seasonal bout of man flu.  It wouldn’t be Hogmanay without my lungs making their annual attempt to perform The Great Escape through the cunning ploy of being coughed up out of my mouth.  

I stood at my reserved table and sat a carrier bag of beer on the seat as I noted the presence of a young woman in close proximity.  I pulled the black gloves from my hands, one at a time (it is impossible to do both hands at once,) the left-hand proving to be a little more resistant at giving up woolen warmth than the right.  I unwrapped the scarf from around my neck – which provided some real respiratory relief as I was so conscious of the cold and of my cold that it had been clinging to me like a python – and extracted the earphones from my backpack before lifting it onto the overhead storage.  Next I unbuttoned my long black overcoat and laid it next to the carrier bag of beer.  I paused for a moment as I tried to get a feel for whether ScotRail had taken the rare step of putting heating on their service on a cold winter day.  They had, and so I continued the elaborate performance of stripping myself of winter layers by lifting my grey acrylic wool jumper up over my head in as methodical a manner as possible so as not to ruffle my comb over.  I took my seat and glanced over at the woman sitting at the opposite table, curious as to whether she had taken notice of my show.  Her eyes were fixated on her phone.

As the train began to depart the station I reached into my carrier bag of beer and snacks.  I glanced around the carriage and observed my fellow passengers, many of them sipping from fancy looking novelty festive coffee cups.  Meanwhile I drank from a screw top bottle of Budweiser and struggled for an inordinate amount of time to tear open a Tesco meal deal sandwich.

At the Travelodge check-in desk I went through my usual routine of informing the receptionist that I had “a room for the night for one person” – because it is always for one person – and she asked me to recite the first line of my address.  I did this and it seemed to spark some kind of memory for her and she insisted that my face seemed familiar to her.  

“I’m not sure whether to take that as a compliment or an insult,” I said in some terrible attempt at flirtatious banter.  She grimaced in an awkward manner and I compounded matters by informing her that I would “probably take it as something in the middle.”  She asked me if I had stayed at the Travelodge before and I acknowledged that I had done so some months previous, at which point I recognised the receptionist as being the equestrian studies girl of my September Ryan Adams tour.  I accepted my room key from her and left for the lift, frustrated that I had thought it a good idea to flirt at the reception desk.

Later in the evening I decided that I would venture along the road to eat dinner at the Italian restaurant I had walked out of earlier in the year after mistaking it for the Malaysian Chinese place next door (“The weekend where many small things happened”)  I walked inside and waited to be seated by the waitress, though I could immediately see that this would not be a problem, as there wasn’t another diner in the establishment.  Whereas all of my dining experiences tend to be solo, this would be an actual literal solo dining experience.

The waitress greeted me and advised that, unsurprisingly, I could take my pick of seating.  I elected to sit at the table by the window so that I could enjoy my meal with the view of a Glasgow street after a wintry snowfall:  black clumps of slush swept to the side of the pavement, discarded cigarette butts impaled on the peak of the ice.  I looked around the empty restaurant and noted that every table was adorned with a rose-red tealight candle holder complete with a flickering flame.  Every table except mine; the one table that was being used.

Having perused the menu the waitress returned to my table and I ordered a couple of courses to be complimented with a carafe of house wine.  “You know what a carafe is?”  She asked.  “Of course I do.”  I didn’t really.  “It’s half a litre of wine; about four glasses.”  “I know.  I’ll take a carafe of red wine.”

I began to contemplate how I was going to drink four glasses of wine as I waited for my food to arrive and I noticed how much louder the pop Muzak seemed without the usual background chatter of a restaurant to drown it out.  I enjoyed my dinner and was onto my fourth and final glass of wine by the time the bill was ready to be settled.  I lounged back in my chair, quite content with the evening so far, and took a long, satisfied swig of the delicious red wine when All By Myself by Celine Dion played.  I couldn’t decide whether the restaurant staff were jesting me or if this was one of those weird and quirky coincidental moments you see all the time on television sitcoms.

Still burdened with man flu I thought it best to retire to the Travelodge and enjoy a quiet drink or two before getting my first early night in more than a week.  I sat on a barstool and waited for one of the hotel staff to return to the bar to serve me.  Eventually the equine studies girl arrived and I decided that I would let her know that I, too, recognised her face (The day the horse left the stable (aka Ryan Adams @ The Sage, Gateshead)  She complimented me on my impressive memory when I enquired how the equestrian studies were going and I furthered my attempt to impress her by channelling some recollection of discussing dressage with her.  She insisted that she isn’t studying to become involved in competition, she simply wants to help train horses and get them ready for competition.

“I see.  So not so much dressage as dressing…?”

The receptionist/barmaid glanced at her watch at this point.

“Unfortunately my shift is actually finished now.”

I ordered a Guinness and a Jameson from her substitute – never a good idea at the best of times – and found myself in conversation with another gentleman at the bar.  He was missing his front teeth, wasn’t wearing any shoes and had the general appearance of someone who might have been rejected from a role in Deliverance on account of looking too much like a ‘backwoods local’.  Remarkably he claimed to be the manager of Amazon’s Gourock branch and I sat talking to him until 4am, at which time it occurred to me that it was Saturday morning and I had a game of football to attend in nigh upon seven hours.

Final scores:
Celtic 0-0 Rangers
JJ 0-1 Celine Dion



The day I slept on the train

The 8.57 train leaving Oban on a Saturday morning isn’t only a means of travelling to Glasgow.  Often it is my best chance of getting some sleep following a Friday night at the bar, and sometimes it is my first opportunity in the day for a cup of what is generously described on the ScotRail menu as “coffee”.

Nobody ever wants to sleep on the train.  There are potentially as many as a thousand arses each year sitting on the seat you are contemplating slumber on and I struggle enough with the prospect of sleeping with one person, let alone scores of strangers.  Then you consider the decor of the carriage and the faded purple and tired green pattern on the seats and you think that surely nobody could wish to sleep on Smurf vomit.

As soon as I finished peeling the reluctant skin from my orange I could feel my eyes become weary.  Although I am a notoriously shy peeler of oranges in public situations due to my frequent inability to remove the skin in one fluent piece, I felt a certain confidence on this occasion when I observed the small boy of maybe five or six years of age opposite me use his nimble little fingers to peel a satsuma in a single complete effort.  If he can do it there’s no reason I can’t, I thought to myself in a surge of optimism, and I reached for the orange from the bottom of my satchel.  I pierced the top of the orange with my index finger and began to loosen the skin from the juicy fruit contained within.  Things were going pretty well and the skin was coming away with ease.  I felt relaxed and was pretty sure that the five-year-old boy sitting across from me would be impressed if he cared about such matters as much as he appeared to be interested in his colouring book, in which he used blues and greens to bring scribbled life to wildlife scenes.  I couldn’t help but suspect that I was taunting me, and this only added to my determination to peel the orange whole.  Then I reached an impasse and there was nowhere left for my finger to go without starting a second string – and that one proved so hopeless that there immediately followed a third attempt at peeling the orange.  I folded the discarded pieces of skin into my empty coffee cup, hopeful that the child across the table hadn’t noticed my failure.  The fruit itself was consumed in less time than it took to free from its jumpsuit, and I was left wondering if the healthy intake of vitamin C I enjoyed from the orange was worth the charade.

My eyes became as heavy as a plump robin on a thin bare branch and I could no longer keep myself awake.  My head craned to the right, resting against the cold hard window – the worst pillow imaginable.  Even worse than at the Travelodge.  It wasn’t particularly comfortable and to make matters worse I felt certain that I was dreaming about falling asleep on the train.  I could picture the scene clearly in my mind’s eye:  a loose earphone dangling errantly from my ear, my eyes flickering like a faulty fairy light as I drift in and out of a barely sober slumber and my mouth hangs open like a snowmans, frozen in dumbfoundment.  In my dream I could see a small formation of saliva gradually dribble down my chin in the manner of a drop of rain which grows bigger as it runs down the length of the window of the train.  I immediately woke up, my hand desperately reaching towards my chin in an attempt to conceal the drool — but there was nothing there.  My brow furrowed and I scanned the faces of the commuters sitting around me, hopeful that none of them had witnessed my flailing at an imaginary dribble.  I discreetly returned the earbud to my ear, settled back in my chair and vowed that I would not allow myself to doze off again.

When I next woke up the train was nearing Glasgow Queen Street and I was feeling hungry.  After enjoying a pint of Caesar Augustus upon arriving in the city I decided to venture towards the Christmas market at St Enoch Square, where a colleague had suggested that I should try the duck fat cooked chips.  I purchased a carton and found a quiet spot to savour them.  In my hungry haste to shove as many thin pieces of potato as possible into my mouth a couple of chips fell to the cold ground, where inevitably a flock of city centre dwelling pigeons quickly arrived.  The birds cooed as they surveyed their unexpected meal of a couple of duck fat cooked chips and as I watched I was filled with the horrible realisation that I was about to become responsible for inadvertent cannibalism.

I briefly considered that maybe the pigeons would know that the chips had been fried in duck fat, either from a recognition of the scent or from an unexpected (at least from my point of view) ability to read from the sign above the stall.  But my hopes were dashed when the birds wasted no time in scoffing the tasty treats, and I was left pinching myself in some doomed attempt to waken myself from this fowl nightmare.

Final scores:
Celtic 5-1 Motherwell
JJ 0-1 Sleep

The day I didn’t drink a cup of coffee until midday

It was with a great deal of effort that I was eventually able to peel open my eyes on Saturday morning in a manner similar to how determined old wallpaper is finally torn from a wall; piece by piece.  I felt worn and droopy, like a style of interior decor which has gone horribly out of fashion, and I decided that rather than get out of bed and make myself a cup of coffee I would lay amongst my sheets in a crumpled, hung over heap for an extra twenty minutes before getting up for the train.  This would prove to be an unwise decision.  I went on to find that the coffee shop near the station was closed for refurbishment, while the station shop itself had run out of milk and there was no trolley service on the train.  I wouldn’t be able to drink a cup of coffee until midday, leaving me lethargic for the first half of the day – quite the opposite of Celtic’s performance against Hibernian that afternoon.

I am not one of those people who insists that I need coffee early in the day to function as a human being, but it was clear on Saturday that I would have enjoyed the morning better with a little caffeinated stimulation.  To begin with, a paranoia normally associated with someone who has drunk far too much coffee crept into my mind as I sat clutching my train ticket between my forefinger and my thumb and I watched the conductor wind her way slowly up the train towards me.  I found myself repeatedly checking every detail on the small orange card, fearing that I had somehow picked up the wrong ticket at the collection window and would be forced to get off the train at some stop in the middle of nowhere, miles and miles away from a coffee shop.  I could sense the shame I would feel as I am ushered up the packed carriage, the eyes of every passenger on me, shaking their heads to indicate appalled disgust as the conductor urges me onto the platform.  Next time boil the kettle!  She would call out as the train pulls away.

Fortunately I was given the correct ticket for my journey and I was granted access to the replacement bus service between Crianlarich and Glasgow, where I found myself seated next to someone of indeterminate gender.  Of course, this was a situation I could easily have been in after a cup of coffee or two, but I felt that my judgment was definitely inhibited by the absence of caffeine from my system, as well as a reluctance to glance too often at the person next to me.  They wore a bright red jacket which was of a fashion only a woman could confidently wear, but the body was slender and lacking any notable feminine shape.  The hair was short and grey and appeared to be an acceptable style for any person, whereas the thin-rimmed spectacles looked much better suited to a female face.  However, the face of this particular person seemed to have the features of a grizzled veteran male and I knew immediately that I could not even contemplate beginning a conversation with this person if I couldn’t determine their sex.  I stared out the window at the passing wet countryside, sighed to myself and wondered whether the sheep grazing on the grass suffered from these social complexities.

It was a late night at the bar the previous evening and an over-indulgence in Jack Daniels which led to my traumatic Saturday morning without coffee.  Here I encountered a woman whose acquaintance I have only really made in the last seven months or so and upon seeing me she enthusiastically threw her arms around me.  I questioned whether it was perhaps a little early in our friendship for us to be greeting each other with a hug, especially when our contact to that point had only been vaguely verbal.  She suggested that we try a handshake instead, but it felt quite formal and I was anxious that it might appear to onlookers as though we were exchanging drugs for money.  I tend to favour a high-five, I said, considering the hand slapping to be friendly without being too intimate or too formal.  We raised our hands into the air and completely missed one another on the first attempt.  We tried again and made minimal contact and I agreed that she was probably right to go with the hug in the first instance, so we reverted to that and shared another friendly embrace before I made some tenuous joke when she innocently answered my question about what she’d been doing with her life recently and we didn’t talk again for the rest of the night.

I finally got my hands on a hot cup of coffee, but not before having to zig-zag a route between several charity talkers on Buchanan Street.  If there are two things I fear in the centre of the city it is charity talkers and umbrellas, and with the rain falling from the sky as incessantly as the attempts of these young volunteers to convince pedestrians to donate to their cause I was panic-stricken as I attempted to weasel through the masses to the nearest coffee shop.  I find it very difficult to ignore charity talkers.  It requires a certain confidence to politely decline whatever they are offering or an equal amount of rudeness to completely ignore them, and I possess neither skill.  This is particularly the case when the charity talker in question is female, given how rare it is that a woman shows a genuine interest in talking to me.  Once when standing outside Liverpool Street Underground Station in London waiting for a friend I became involved in a lengthy discussion with an attractive female charity talker which led to me providing her with all of my contact details and an agreement to donate £1 a month to some charity pledging to preserve the Cumbrian slug or help grow pomegranates on the Norfolk coast or something equally as tenuous.  After several months I eventually came to the realisation that my donation to this cause wasn’t going to win the affection of the female charity talker who I would never see again anyway because she lived in London and I didn’t, so I cancelled my monthly donation and I never knew what become of her gastropod mollusc.

Fortunately the charity talkers in Glasgow were dressed in a bright blue which alerted me to their presence several yards before I reached them and I was able to dodge their good intentions on my way to the coffee shop.  I ordered an Americano and sat at a table by the window, where I pondered everything I had experienced that morning.  I cradled the styrofoam cup in my hands and let the warm steam rise up to my chin between mouthfuls.  In a way it felt comforting and relaxing, and it was then that I realised that what I really needed was a beer, so I got up and left for a nearby bar.

Final scores:
JJ 0-1 Coffee
Celtic 2-2 Hibernian

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