An Easter like no other

As far as religious holidays went, I always preferred Easter to Christmas.  It wasn’t so much that I found the story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection two days later more believable than that of a virginal woman giving birth to the child of God in a barn, just that it felt more laid-back and relaxed.  Easter never came with the pressure of making sure that you had bought a suitable present for everyone like there was at Christmas, there wasn’t the same concern over outfits for parties or if there would be enough food for the entire family to feast on, and to me, the Easter bunny was clearly a less threatening character than an old bearded man who would travel the world to creep around your house late at night, especially so in the era of social distancing.  It would be interesting to see how parents would talk their way around that one come Christmas 2020.

It probably wasn’t until I became an adult that I really started to appreciate Easter, or at least it would have been when I reached an age at which most people consider that you should be an adult.  A long weekend of four whole days was to a grown-up what Christmas morning was to a child, and with it usually came the opportunity to spend four nights in the pubs – all our Christmasses arriving at once.  It wasn’t always like that, though, and my abiding memory of Easter Sunday from when I was growing up was of how long the mass in the cathedral felt.  The service easily went on much later than every other Sunday of the year, and for a ten-year-old boy who had given up eating chocolate for Lent it seemed torturous to have finally reached the day on which my sacrifice for Jesus would be rewarded with a large Cadbury’s egg, only to have to first sit through a mass which certainly went beyond midday, and God only knows when it actually ended.  In that respect, it was almost like going into a busy bar and patiently waiting for your turn to be served, only for the keg to need changing when you reach the front of the queue.

Church was always busy on Easter Sunday, and everybody seemed to be wearing their very best outfit for the occasion, though in later years it was difficult to recall if that was really the case, or if it was just the technicolour of nostalgia.  I didn’t realise it at the time, but the likelihood was that most of them had reservations for lunch in one of the town’s restaurants or hotels in the afternoon.  Like my siblings and I straining for that first mouthful of milk chocolate in more than six weeks, these people were all being forced to listen to a seemingly endless stream of readings, some of them delivered by people we had never even seen before, and all of them having obviously been carefully practised since Christmas.  It was all quite reminiscent of the Medieval-themed restaurant we visited in Orlando as a family in the late nineties where we had to watch a joust or a duel unfold in front of us before we could eat our meal.

The streets in Oban were empty on Easter weekend

Almost as arduous as having to endure mass for what felt like many hours on Easter Sunday morning was the chore we would undertake in primary school the week or two prior to the big day of making our Easter bonnets.  I was never artistically inclined and probably spent most of the time thinking to myself how I would much rather be writing an essay about how disappointing my attempt at crafting a bonnet would inevitably be. Practically, a paper hat would surely be useless anyway, particularly if an April shower should come and cause the yellow crayon of chicks, the green stems of daffodils and the blue cloudless sky to weep as the material turned to mush.  It didn’t help that I had always felt tremendously insecure about things that would be seen by other people when I was in school, or at any age, really.  Art projects, picture frames in woodworking class, wearing shorts in PE.  When I thought about it all as I got older, I wondered if people were born with the inherent ability to be gushing in their praise of garish Easter bonnets and to be convincing in the mythology of Santa Claus, or if it was a skill that parents learned as they went, in the way of burping or changing a nappy.

Easter started to become something I would look forward to when I reached adulthood, when I no longer had to sit through mass to eat a piece of chocolate if I didn’t want to, and when the fashion was arguably better and undoubtedly more appropriate.  Although Good Friday was the start of a four day weekend, and a day which I would spend lounging around my flat in a pair of jeans and a casual checked shirt, kind of resembling a rejected advertisement campaign for if GAP were targetting the single and undateable market, I still felt the desire to suit up when it came time to go to Aulay’s at night.  I had spent years carefully crafting my sartorial image as the guy who always matched the colour of his socks to his tie and pocket square, and just because Jesus had sacrificed himself for mankind didn’t mean that I had to sacrifice colour coordination, even if it did draw looks of suspicion and curiosity from those who knew me and who were aware that I wasn’t working on Good Friday.  

There was no al fresco dining at Piazza restaurant

Spending Easter weekend in the bars often resulted in a phenomenon which was broadly similar to the story of Easter itself, if it was told in reverse:  Good Friday would see a person feeling revitalised and full of the vigours of life, but by Sunday they would be beaten, lifeless and ready to be hidden away in a dark cave.  Sometimes, if you took it easy on Saturday, you could get the story back on track and experience a resurrection of fortunes by Sunday morning, but it almost always went the same way in the end.  That turned out to be the case in 2017, when my brother and his girlfriend at the time had recently moved into his flat together and they hosted a combined Easter Sunday and flat warming celebration.  

The three of us, along with my bearded work colleague who in a later transformation of miraculous proportions would go from being the Shane MacGowan-like figure of our group to becoming completely teetotal, spent the afternoon drinking a salted caramel liquor out of the hollow shell of Kinder eggs, since we had been too late to buy anything larger or more in keeping with a traditional Easter.  The chocolate quickly sagged from the warmth of the alcohol and it was only possible to drink two shots of the stuff before it began leaking through the base, like some sweetly decadent plumbing problem that could only be fixed by using the tool of our mouths.  In another unorthodox use of chocolate, we removed the small yellow and white marbles from the popular children’s action board game Hungry Hippos and substituted them with bags of Malteasers.  Many of the sweets were too large for the plastic spring-activated mammals to swallow whole, resulting in a chaotic bloodbath as tiny pieces of chocolate flew all across the board like shrapnel, until eventually some shapes were stripped completely down to their honeycomb.  It was difficult to determine the winner of the contest when, for the first time in our lives, we were all feeling like winners.

Our game of Hungry Hippos with Malteasers in 2017 became a bloodbath.

Once our stash of alcohol had been exhausted and the threat of diabetes was high, we decided to venture into town, where Coasters was packed full for its annual Easter disco.  Before we left the flat, Kim presented us each with a fluffy little yellow chick, no bigger than the Malteasers we had just seen devoured by the hippos.  She said that if I wanted to, I could offer mine to a woman in the pub and it would surely lead to me befriending her, though it seemed an unusual method of seduction to me, a chick for a chick.  When I recently dipped my hand into the left breast pocket of my denim jacket, I discovered the small Easter chick, its fluffy coat much less buoyant than I remembered it, and its tiny orange legs contorted in on themselves, looking like something even the committee for the Turner Prize wouldn’t entertain.  It was a reminder that not every Easter ends with a miracle.

Many of the Easters of our adulthood did produce some remarkable events, and that was undoubtedly the case on the last Good Friday before the world changed; a Good Friday which itself changed some of the things we knew.  I had a tinge of trepidation when I arrived in Aulay’s that night following the events of twenty-four hours previous, when I had accidentally befriended my brother’s pub enemy.  If we are to accept that the concept of having a pub enemy exists, and that such a nemesis is a figure who constantly seems to have a presence when something goes wrong, despite your best efforts to not acknowledge them, then my pub enemy would be the fresh-faced homosexual who was present for at least two of my failures during 2018, the diminutive barmaid’s would be the top shelf where the malt whiskies are kept, and my brother’s pub enemy would be the Brexit Guy.

During the 2018 FIFA World Cup, my brother and I found ourselves in conversation at the bar with a pleasant and soft-spoken man who had blonde hair to match the tanned complexion of his skin.  My attention drifted when the subject turned to politics, though I was soon aware of my brother’s tone becoming animated in the way it does when he disagrees with something.  The soft-spoken man didn’t stick around for long after that, and it transpired that despite living in Colombia for half of the year, he was in favour of Brexit because it would curb the number of immigrants coming to Britain in search of work, a paradox which didn’t sit well with my brother.  Every time we saw him in Aulay’s after that night he was referred to as the Brexit Guy, and we never talked to him.

I couldn’t be sure how I ended up speaking to him the night before Good Friday, but I presumed that it was a drunken mistake, the way someone picks up the wrong jacket or drinks a rum and coke instead of a Jack Daniels.  Once again I found him to be pleasant and softly-spoken, though in the back of my mind there was a pang of gnawing (Catholic) guilt that if my brother could see the scene he would be disappointed by my interaction with his pub enemy.  When it reached the point where the Brexit Guy was offering to buy a Jameson for me, I had to come clean and remind him of the incident a year earlier before I could accept the whiskey and at the same time force the diminutive barmaid to confront her own pub enemy.

The Brexit Guy remembered the evening well and implied that he feels awkward every time he sees my brother and me at the bar.  This made me feel strangely powerful, that for the first time in my life I was intimidating another person, even if it had all been the work of my brother.  I imagined that the Brexit Guy viewed us as figures similar to the Kray twins, unlike most other people in Aulay’s who see us as something closer to the Chuckle Brothers.

I was able to accept a drink from the Brexit Guy when he confessed that he was very drunk on the night in question and was probably taking a contrary opinion to my brother’s because he enjoys winding other people up when he has had too much to drink.  I wasn’t sure how much I believed his story, but he seemed genuine and I, myself, have often considered the sporting merits of taking an opposing view to my brother, though have never had the guts to see it through.  On Good Friday the Brexit Guy again approached me at the bar, and we were chatting when he told me that he felt the need to apologise to my brother.  He called across to him and extended a hand, in place of an olive branch, which my brother shook. Brexit Guy apologised for “being a dick” in that initial meeting, and my brother conceded that he had probably been a dick too.  It was an Easter miracle that I had brought these two pub enemies together, and over the months he became so woven into the fabric of our group that we all brought in the bells together in Aulay’s, when we left 2019 and entered what would become the strangest year of our lives.

We were into the third week of lockdown following the worldwide spread of Coronavirus when Easter arrived.  At the beginning of the week, everyone in the country received a letter from the government about the measures being taken to combat the pandemic, which stirred up a real mix of emotions for me.  As a single occupant, it was very rare for me to receive any form of communication in the post that wasn’t a leaflet detailing the special offers in Farmfoods or offering life insurance cover for the over fifty-five-year-olds, so when I opened my front door to find a white envelope sticking out of the mouth of my postbox, like a Malteaser shredded of its chocolate and caught in the jaws of a hungry hippo, it was exciting.  The thrill quickly dissipated into disappointment when the contents were revealed, and the Shakespearian twist was complete when later that night it was reported that the Prime Minister had been taken into intensive care with the virus.  I didn’t have much care for the man himself, but the gravity of the situation in the country was difficult to ignore.

Two Calmac ferries social distancing in Oban Bay.

As time was wearing on, one listless day bleeding into another like white clouds on the horizon of a vast blue sky, considerations of fashion seemed to become less important.  It had been weeks since I had worn a tie, and at one point I realised that I had taken to wearing printed socks which I received as a Christmas present.  One pair, which were black, had several tigers on them, around eleven on each foot.  The big cats were full-bodied and prowled around the ankles, though the stretch of the material made it difficult to make out their faces.  Wearing the socks was a move that was so far out of step with the real world for me; I could never have worn them in ordinary circumstances.  There probably wasn’t a tie that would match socks which have tigers on them, and even if there was it would likely be hideous and look ridiculous on me, like a formal Easter bonnet, and as though I was a walking advert for a frosted flake cereal. And even if there was a tie to match the socks, who even knows what kind of pocket square would go with them to complete the triumvirate?  Though by this point in the lockdown it was hard to care about such things, and the character socks became just another new thing we would all have to get used to.

Everything in the new Coronavirus reality was taking some getting used to.  Even after a few weeks, I had to catch myself when I was walking towards another person on the pavement and from several yards away they took the decision to cross over to the other, empty, side of the road.  It was instinctive to wonder what you had done wrong, if your gait had unsettled them or if they simply didn’t like the way that you were dressed, until you remembered that they probably just didn’t want to get sick, and few people knew exactly how wide a pavement was.  To some it seemed easier to cross the road than to engage in the uncomfortable stand-off when two people were approaching one another from opposite directions, and because the pavement never got any wider, someone would have to step out onto the road to make the gap between them feel distant enough, creating the unusual dynamic where there was either the threat of walking into oncoming traffic, or of being infected by another human.  Would you rather die instantly from being hit by the Soroba to Dunollie bus, or fourteen days later from severe respiratory failure?

Easter in Oban, like anywhere else, was unlike any other we had known.  There were no church services to sit through before we could enjoy a piece of chocolate.  All of the restaurants and hotels were closed, while the outdoor dining areas that were usually crackling with the hum of tourists in the spring were as empty as the inside of a Kinder egg.  After a family video chat on Saturday evening, during which we discussed how when we were younger we would go and roll our eggs at “the rolly polly place”, which I now know most people refer to as the war memorial, it was back to the silence and stillness of lockdown.  Even the boats in the harbour seemed to be enacting social distancing, while the two seagulls I saw sitting at opposite ends of a lamp post on the Esplanade were either stringently following the rules or were involved in a serious tiff.  From McCaig’s Tower I had an eagle-eye view of the empty streets through town; this wasn’t the Easter anyone had imagined.  Even a handshake was out of the question.

Links & things:

The previous two Easter stories that I have written can be found here:
22 April 2019: The night of the handshake
3 April 2018: The morning I re-started yoga

Follow the link to my Instagram account for more pictures of Oban looking empty on Easter weekend

This week I have been mostly listening to the following songs:

And, really, just all of Laura Marling’s latest record Songs For Our Daughter…

The night of the handshake

Good Friday started with the sort of hangover which only ever comes from stopping drinking before midnight, the type that is somehow worse than those experienced after you’ve been up until four o’clock in the morning and you awaken on the sofa wearing yesterday’s suit.  If this was how Christ felt after taking a chalice of wine at the Last Supper, I thought, then crucifixion was probably a welcome relief.

In a bid to resurrect my health I took a long walk by the sea after getting a hair cut which only succeeded in helping me look around six weeks younger.  It was the warmest day of the year to that point, and everybody and their dog seemed to be out enjoying the sun – even those without dogs.  I was walking with a hungover gait which I expected was giving the impression to passers-by that I was suffering from some serious ailment.  Near the war memorial, I was quickly overtaken by a couple who were wearing matching green lycra running gear.  They were the kind of outfits that I imagined were probably not so much an expression of their love for one another, but more like an obligation which comes from a his and hers Christmas gift given by a friend.  They had likely told loved ones that as a new couple who enjoy doing every waking thing together, they would accept presents which they could use together, such as a certificate for a day at a spa, or a pair of concert tickets, never expecting that they would be forced into taking up running as a hobby.

Nearer the centre of town, people were lined along the walls looking across the water towards the ferry terminal pier, where a small fishing boat which had sunk the previous morning was being raised from the bay.  The symbolism of this happening over Easter wasn’t lost on anyone – or at least it wasn’t missed by people who think about such things like I spend my time doing.  Most others were more interested in details like who the boat belonged to, where it had come from, how it had sunk and whether anybody had been hurt.  That was all anyone had talked about in the barbershop, anyway.

The sunset at the end of a day of beautiful spring weather presented an opportunity for a lineup of a different variety on the seafront as swarms of people were jockeying for position for the best photograph.  Couples were posing for selfies in front of the setting sun, as though the sinking star was any other prop, like those cardboard figures with their faces cut out you find at an amusement park.  Just another object in the shadow of their affection.

It was Friday night, and although I had been happily lounging around in jeans during the day, I changed into a suit – without the jacket – in keeping with the carefully crafted appearance I had been putting together for four years.  The diminutive barmaid in Aulay’s looked at me curiously and asked if I had been working.  When I told her that I had been off for the day, and pointed out that I was dressed in casual wear, she laughed hysterically.

“But the only difference is that you’re wearing a sweater vest?”  She said in the manner of a question, before laughing again.

I had a tinge of trepidation when I arrived in Aulay’s that night following the events of twenty-four hours previous, when I accidentally befriended my brother’s pub enemy.  If we are to accept that the concept of having a pub enemy exists, and that such a nemesis is a figure who constantly seems to have a presence when something goes wrong, despite your best efforts to not acknowledge them, then my pub enemy would be the fresh-faced homosexual, the diminutive barmaid’s would be the top shelf where the malt whiskies are kept, and my brother’s pub enemy would be the Brexit Guy.

During the 2018 FIFA World Cup, my brother and I found ourselves in conversation at the bar with a pleasant and soft-spoken man who had blonde hair to match the tanned complexion of his skin.  My attention drifted when the subject turned to politics, though I was soon aware of my brother’s tone becoming animated in the way it does when he disagrees with something.  The soft-spoken man didn’t stick around for long after that, and it transpired that despite living in Colombia for half of the year, he was in favour of Brexit because it would curb the number of immigrants coming to Britain in search of work.  Every time we saw him in Aulay’s after that night he was referred to as the Brexit Guy, and we never talked to him.

I couldn’t be sure how I ended up speaking to him the night before Good Friday, but I presumed that it was a drunken accident, the way someone picks up the wrong jacket or drinks a rum and coke instead of a Jack Daniels.  Once again I found him to be pleasant and softly-spoken, though in the back of my mind there was a pang of gnawing (Catholic) guilt that if my brother could see the scene he would be disappointed by my interaction with his pub enemy.  When it reached the point where the Brexit Guy was offering to buy a Jameson for me, I had to come clean and remind him of the incident a year earlier before I could accept the whiskey and at the same time force the diminutive barmaid to confront her own pub enemy.

The Brexit Guy remembered the confrontation well and implied that he feels awkward every time he sees my brother and me at the bar.  This made me feel strangely powerful, that for the first time in my life I was intimidating another person, even if it had all been the work of my brother.  I imagined that the Brexit Guy viewed us as figures similar to the Kray twins, unlike most other people in Aulay’s who see us as something closer to the Chuckle Brothers.

I was able to accept a drink from the Brexit Guy when he confessed that he was very drunk on the night in question and was probably taking a contrary opinion to my brother’s because he enjoys winding other people up when he has had too much to drink.  I wasn’t sure how much I believed his story, but he seemed genuine and I, myself, have often considered the sporting merits of taking an opposing view to my brother, though have never had the guts to see it through.  On Good Friday the Brexit Guy again approached me at the bar, and we were chatting when he told me that he felt the need to apologise to my brother.  He called across to him and extended a hand, in place of an olive branch, which my brother shook.  Brexit Guy apologised for “being a dick” in that initial meeting, and my brother conceded that he had probably been a dick too.  It was an Easter miracle that I had brought these two pub enemies together.  Not quite the resurrection of Christ, but closer to the raising of a sunken fishing boat.

By the time Easter Sunday came around, many of the faces around town had been reddened by the weather, and some in Markie Dans had been reddened by a day spent drinking.  The bar was busy and had developed its own micro-climate.  There were people crammed into every corner of the room, like the way that when you open just about any kitchen cupboard in the country there is a stash of novelty Cadbury’s mugs which have been gathered over the years, decorated in the style of chocolate bar wrappers such as Double Decker, Wispa or Caramel.  The mugs are only ever used in emergency situations, the occasions where the number of guests overwhelms the stock of proper cups.  I had recently looked in my dad’s cupboard and seen no fewer than seven mugs, which allowing for breakages probably amounted to around three Easter’s in our home.

Under the bar lights, a group of young ladies were organising themselves into formation for a pub selfie.  Following much direction the girls were ready for their moment, and after a pause one of them broke from the pack and approached me.  She had long brunette hair which was tied up into a tail, while on her back she was carrying a grey bag which was the size of a tortoise shell.  I wondered if she had noticed my youthful haircut, or whether she was going to comment on my black checked shirt, but instead, with a European accent, she asked me if I could take a photograph of the group.

When I returned the phone to the brunette with the bag I was waiting for the critique of my lack of focus and disappointing flash when I asked the girl where she was from.  “I’m over here from Germany,” she said. “Bavaria. Most people sound exhausted when I tell them I’m German.” I couldn’t really understand why this would be people’s response.  Underwhelmed I could see; disappointed even.  But exhaustion implied that the energy had been sucked from the very beings of those who had asked the same question I had, and that just seemed a bit of an over-reaction.  I assured her that I wasn’t exhausted to learn that she is German and, on the contrary, quite liked her accent.

“You think my accent sounds German?”  Asked the Bavarian brunette with the bag, her tone laced with something between disappointment and exhaustion.  She went on to explain that she is studying American English and had been listening to her American friends in class in the hope of using their dialect to disguise her German accent.  I told her that I couldn’t hear any American in her voice, and finding the expressions of the girl to be increasingly like the James Joyce novel Ulysses – too difficult to read – I eventually gave up trying.

There was a full moon sitting resplendent in the sky over the bay as I was walking home in the early hours of the morning, the largest substitute for company I could see anywhere.  I was thinking about the miraculous events of Easter weekend as I rounded the North Pier, the historic happenings in Jerusalem and the handshake between pub enemies in Aulay’s, and I accepted that it was always going to be too much to make a German girl smile.  I realised that it was probably for the best when I began to consider the his and hers gifts we might have one day received, and that I could have ended up wearing a bag as large as a tortoise shell.

The night of the dolphin disagreement

It would be fair to say that if when I last attended Sunday mass it was a time before our family home had a dialup internet connection then I am a lapsed Catholic – that is to say, someone who was raised in the Catholic faith but has since grown to prefer enjoying life.

Back in those pre-millennial days, when Sunday morning was spent praying to a Holy Spirit to guide me rather than praying for a whole load of spirits to leave me alone, my siblings and I would challenge ourselves to prove our dedication to the church by sacrificing our enjoyment of chocolate for the forty days of Lent.  If the twenty-four days of Advent leading to Christmas were a chocolate calendar-filled heaven, then the forty days of Lent before Easter was almost twice as long and any nine-year-old’s vision of hell. For nearly six weeks my favourite Drifter chocolate bar would be absent from my school packed lunch box, though it was often difficult to understand why many of the other children were still eating chocolate.  On occasion, some of my closest friends – the kids who, coincidentally enough, weren’t to be seen at mass on a Sunday – would offer me a piece of chocolate, insisting that Jesus wouldn’t know if I was to eat just a small bit of chocolate.  Proudly I resisted, feeling sure that if it was true what the priest and teacher said about God’s ability to see everything he would probably be able to see me sneaking a bite of a chocolate bar in the playground of St. Columbas Primary School.

As Ash Wednesday, the day which – literally – marks the beginning of Lent, was approaching, my thoughts returned to those Lenten periods past.  I wondered if as a 35-year-old man I would have the same ability to see a sacrifice through all the way to Easter Sunday the way I did as a church-going boy.  Chocolate no longer features very much in my life and wouldn’t be such a challenging forfeit, so if I was to participate in Lent I would need to find a more suitable vice to go without.  I ran through the alternatives in my mind: I don’t eat lavish or exquisite meals, the only alcohol I would be willing to do without would be the last drink of the night, and I gave up on romance a long time ago.

In the end, I decided that the idea wasn’t for me.  I reached this conclusion after spending some time considering giving up soup, having eaten a bowl of the stuff for lunch just about every day during winter.  After a bit of thought I dismissed the idea, however, conceding that it would be more of a lentil sacrifice than a Lenten sacrifice.

The night before Ash Wednesday – commonly known as ‘Pancake Tuesday’, although I was out of eggs and so it was simply Tuesday – had me babysitting my niece, albeit I couldn’t be sure that the term babysitting still applies when she is weeks away from her third birthday and we were spending much of our time together pretending to be cats.  When we weren’t faking felines we were watching The Lion King, and despite the fact that it would have been decades since I had last seen the Disney animation, I knew that the scene was approaching where young Simba’s father, Mufasa, is killed, and I was dreading it.  

What if this really upsets her, I was thinking to myself.  Would she notice if I pressed fast forward?  My niece is typically smarter than I am so I couldn’t take the risk.  I’ll just tell her that Mufasa is lost, I was pondering as the death scene was entering its final throes.  It seemed like a pretty good idea until the young Simba found the lifeless body of his stricken father and I had to begin thinking of a way I could convince the toddler that older lions are extremely lazy creatures who spend months at a time just lying around the jungle.  It was something she would be able to Google or ask Alexa later in her life when I would be exposed as a terrible uncle, but for now, it would do.

As all of this was happening, my niece was crawling around the floor of my living room telling me all about her upcoming birthday party and how she wants to grow up to be a lion, and I realised that I was the only one of us who was being troubled by the death of Mufasa.

Some people search for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, but on Friday all that was there was Soroba.

On the first Friday of Lent, I found myself mingling with a group of scientists who were out enjoying some farewell drinks for a departing colleague.  As I was standing amongst them, I was finding myself considering what the collective noun for a group of scientists would be, though I never thought to ask any of them through fear of it sounding like a stupid question.  After some time I was in conversation with a girl whose hair was the colour of a light Bunsen burner flame.  She was more energetic than I imagined a scientist could be, and she was fun to talk to.  Almost inevitably the discussion turned to the subject of dolphins, where I was surprised to learn of the view that dolphins are nasty, vicious, sexually aggressive bullies.  That isn’t what I remember from the nature documentaries I have watched, or from Flipper, and I was immediately compelled to ask around the room in the expectation that this dissenting opinion would be ridiculed and that the intelligence of the aquatic mammal would be fêted.   To my dismay, not only was the opinion not scoffed at, but it was supported by the other scientists, and I appeared to be in a minority.

Despite the dolphin dispute, I was somehow able to convince the girl with the Bunsen burner hair that it would be a good idea to come back to my place for a post-pub drink.  As we were walking along the street towards my flat she would keep reciting the phrase “I have a boyfriend”, in the manner of a religious chant.  I assured her that my intentions were noble and drunken, having long since gotten used to having girls in my flat who aren’t interested in romance.

We arrived in my flat, where the climate was only marginally less cold than it was outside, and as I was fixing a couple of drinks the scientist asked me if she could use the bathroom.  Being that I strive to be a good host, entirely un-dolphin-like, I told her that she was welcome to go to the toilet.  I poured some vodka and whisky into separate glasses whilst trying to think of a suitable soundtrack for the moment.  By the time the scientist returned from the restroom, she announced that she was going to have to leave because she had a better offer.  That’s not what she said, but it’s how she said it.  I wondered if the toilet seat had been distractingly unstable, because it was the first time a girl has left my flat before she has had her drink or so much as commented on the Jackson Pollock print above the couch.

It seemed the right thing to do when I offered to walk the scientist to the superior party she was leaving my flat for, though when we were walking back along the street we had only minutes previously travelled, she admitted that she didn’t know where exactly she was going, and her phone calls were going unanswered.  Eventually she gave up, like a Lenten sacrifice, and decided that she was going to walk home instead.  When she told me that she lived at the other end of town, a sense of laziness and defeat was filling me.  I usually have a need to walk a person to their destination, but I implored the girl with the Bunsen burner hair to take a taxi.  She sighed into the cold wind, telling me that she didn’t have money for a taxi.  I reached into my wallet for a brown note, in what was surely the first instance of me paying a girl to not have a drink with me.

By that point dad had spent a night in hospital and the fragility of bones and everything was on my mind, not too dissimilar to the man in Aulay’s who had earlier been telling me the story of his nicotine addicted sister who was having a voice box put in to her throat, and her primary concern was to ask the doctor if she would still be able to have cigarettes.  At the end of it all, we’re just blowing smoke in our own ways.  It’s the circle of life: one person is having a voice box inserted, while another is shouting into the night, wanting to know the truth about dolphins.

The morning I re-started yoga

The weekend just passed turned out to be a lot like the story of Easter if it was told in reverse:  Friday was a day where I felt revitalised and re-energised and full of life.  It was, quite literally, a Good Friday.  By Easter Sunday, however, I felt drained and lifeless and as though I was pushing against a giant stone to no avail.  There is, I suppose, a limit to how much alcohol a thirty-four-year-old man can responsibly drink, and a four-day weekend is at the very peak of that limit.

The full moon scene over Oban Bay on Easter Sunday night

Although Good Friday was a day on which I wasn’t working I had grown quite restless and bored sitting around my flat in a pair of dark jeans and a checked shirt and felt an urge to suit up before I went to Aulay’s Bar, as though it was any other Friday and I was indulging in post-work drinks.  A part of me feels like I have a certain appearance to uphold having dressed this way on so many Friday nights, even if that appearence is of a man who has had too many whiskies and is woefully inept at talking to women but at least is sharply dressed.  He was often very drunk and he certainly didn’t know how to talk to a lady, but at least his socks were almost matching the colour of his tie; is what I expect will be etched on my epitaph.

This could rarely have been more true than on Friday night, where the bar staff were witness to some crude form of dark comedic entertainment when the formerly red-haired barmaid who often smiles was able to convince a trio of tourists that it would be in their interests to move from the public bar to the lounge, where I was waiting to seduce them with my purple pocket square and some carefully prepared and beguiling introduction.

Unfortunately the bar staff were about to take the role of Pilate’s court to my Jesus Christ, only rather than turning water into wine I was going to transform romantic opportunity into sour grapes.  I became fixated on the fluffy white bobble hat with light shades of blue and pink one of the girls was wearing and after a time all I could think about was passing comment on this hat.  When she removed it her hair was the colour of a sunset which had bled most of its warmth into the ocean and she had a pale face which demanded a lot more attention than I was giving it, but I couldn’t move past the bobble hat.  Eventually I determined that something had to be said, only the timing was horribly wrong:  she had put the bobble hat back on her head and she and her friends were preparing to leave.  I lurched towards her in an awkward fashion which betrayed my navy blue suit and congratulated her on the beautiful bobble hat she was wearing.  She thanked me and told me that she is Welsh and I remarked that “I suppose that explains why it looks so cosy” and I never saw her again.

I stood at the bar nursing a Jack Daniels and coke, contemplating where things might have gone wrong with the girl with the bobble hat, when I became aware of two English women at the end of the bar ordering malt whiskies.  I was able to put aside the feeling of inferiority which was washing over me as I clutched a bourbon whiskey sorely watered down by a sugary soft drink and I enquired about the story which led these ladies to explore whisky in Scotland.  They were receptive to conversation and I went some way to making amends for my appearance as a Scotsman who drinks Jack Daniels and coke when I ordered a round of Lagavulin, a proper whisky which I have not imbibed since the night it coaxed me into collapsing through the screen door on my shower.  The whisky was commended and the conversation was progressing remarkably well until I mentioned the ghost which I suspect haunts my bedroom.  It was then that I learned that telling a woman about the female spirit which lingers in my bedroom and seems to be more interested in escaping than making contact with me isn’t at all a move that will entice said woman into visiting the bedroom.  In fact, it strikes me that the one certain way to convince a woman that she shouldn’t go to bed with you would be to make it clear that even a ghost would not molest you in the night.

Although Good Friday was indeed a good night it also brought me to realise that all I have in my romancing repertoire is the colour of my socks and the way that I have laid my wardrobe out so that it goes from dark shirts to light.  I have no escapades to regale, very little in the way of exploits and certainly no high jinks to speak of.  It was this watershed moment which convinced me that I had to once again start doing yoga each morning, even if only to give me something else to talk about.

This morning I reached for the black yoga mat which had been stored on the top shelf of my wardrobe since I moved into my flat – an act that I suspect will be much easier after a few days of stretching and bending – and I tried to find a suitable spot in my living room for my routine.  The room is quite small and there is little space for complex body movements.

The area inside the doorway seemed the most suitable for my daily exercise, despite the tips of my fingers almost threatening to brush the dado rail with every stretch and my nose very nearly making unwanted contact with the coffee table as I moved into a downward dog.  What proved more difficult than the spacial constraints was trying to get into a mindset of ‘Zen’ when laying on a wooden floor and spying a piece of fluff under the couch or the discarded plastic tag from a recently purchased tie, which had somehow made it into the living room despite being cut in the bedroom.  It is hard to be at one with one’s spirit when you are disturbed by specks of dust on the floor.

A different frame of mind to the peace of yoga is required when preparing dinner – particularly when chopping onions.  I always end up with an abundance of them due to the fact that my nearest supermarket doesn’t sell them loose and so, like with lemons, I have to buy a net of five at a time, which often means that every recipe requires an onion.  This isn’t a terrible imposition and onions do not have an unpleasant taste, but they do have a tendency to irritate the eyes and if drinking Jack Daniels and coke at a bar in front of a woman who enjoys malt whisky isn’t bad enough then crying over the creation of a pasta dish surely is.  Recently I have devised a foolproof method to prevent this from happening, and that is to think of something sad before taking a sharp knife to the skin of the onion.  Usually I will contemplate the futility of my romantic life or imagine what kind of dirt I might encounter on my living room floor while doing yoga the next morning, and at least if tears do stream down my cheeks I can convince myself that I am not crying over something as silly as an onion.

That, at least, is my interpretation of the proverb about how April showers bring May flowers.