The Fine Art of Self-Destruction

Although the trains between Oban and Glasgow generally operate between meal times, there always seems to be an instinctive need to snack when travelling on them.  I have never known why it is, but when you look around any table on the 12.11 service you will see them decorated with pretty paper Costa bags, Subway sandwiches and large bags of Kettle’s crisps.  And these are all people who probably ate a large lunch before they boarded the train.  There’s just something about the prospect of spending three hours enclosed in a boiling metal container that has people stocking up as though they might never see food again.

In my modest backpack I was carrying three peaches and two bananas.  I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten a peach, though it seemed unlikely that it had been within the current century.   Despite my lack of recent peach experience, it caught my eye whilst shopping in Lidl that they had the fruit on offer at 59p for a punnet of six, which if nothing else would at least finally provide me with a retort to the question of what can you get for ten pence these days?  If anyone should sarcastically ask that in the general area of my presence, I could tell them:  “well, actually, you could get yourself a peach and still have a penny change.

I approached the checkout with a basket filled with peaches, bananas, four cans of Budweiser and a few other items which I wasn’t going to need until after my train journey.  The queue was unusually long for a Monday afternoon, or at least it was longer than I had imagined the line would be, having never actually shopped at three o’clock on a Monday before.  It was when I eventually reached the self-service till, having scanned each of my items through the system, that I became much more aware than ever before of my need to make contact with the card reader, even when making a contactless payment with my debit card.  I was feeling a sense of unease, perhaps even embarrassment, when I realised that not only was I touching the device with my purple plastic debit card, but I was holding it firmly against the screen until the payment had been recognised.  It was clear that I was substituting my emotional need for intimacy, for contact, for a £9.87 payment for groceries.

On the train, I unpacked the fruit from my luggage just as the others around me were placing their own food on the table.  The white-haired woman sitting opposite me unveiled a sandwich that was the most tightly wrapped in clingfilm I had ever seen.  The wrapping job was perfect, as though it was a tourniquet holding a wounded salmon together until it could make it into surgery.  Watching the whole thing, I couldn’t help but feel shame about my own use of clingfilm, which is so loose that it resembles a Club 18-30 holiday.  By the time the sandwich had been unwrapped, it was obvious that the salmon had not made it.

At the table across the carriage, a middle-aged couple whose accent depicted a Yorkshire charm became involved in a dispute with one another when a third party at their table pointed out that their sodden Costa bag was leaking coffee onto the surface.  The woman hastily removed two cups which were stained with brown from the bag while her other half sighed, his face as stern as a weather-beaten granite statue.  “We’re going to have to get rid of these coffees ASAP,” the man said, speaking the final part of his sentence as though it was a word, rather than the initialism most people commonly use.  Other than drinking the coffees, I couldn’t see what their options were.

Jesse Malin performed The Fine Art of Self-Destruction at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut on Thursday 20 June

As I was unpeeling my banana, the passenger sitting next to me was using the Spotify app on his mobile phone to listen to the greatest hits album by Midge Ure.  He pressed play as the train was leaving the station in Oban, and by the time it had reached the first stop in Connel fifteen minutes later, his earphones were coiled on the area in front of him, alongside his phone and his glasses.

Around an hour had passed since consuming the banana when I was beginning to feel the need to eat again.  I hadn’t purposefully left it so long before thinking about having the peach because I was looking forward to it, the way I’ll sometimes leave my favourite song until the last selection on the jukebox, but more because I was feeling anxious about eating a peach in front of other people.  It’s not that I didn’t know how to eat a peach, just that it had been so long since I had eaten one that I had forgotten how to do it without looking like someone who hasn’t eaten a morsel of food in five months.

With the peach sat on the table staring back at me, I was reminded of a similar situation I found myself in some years earlier on the same train when I was sitting opposite a mother and her son, who was no more than five-years-old and who had peeled the skin from an orange in one attempt and in the fashion of an elephant’s trunk.  I was suddenly feeling very self-conscious about the two satsumas I was carrying in my bag.  My anxiety was justified when I began peeling the first of the satsumas and it turned into an arduous demonstration of my method of stripping old wallpaper from a wall, taking at least eight tries at removing all of the orange peel.  I felt disillusioned, and even though the young boy’s head was buried in a colouring book, I was sure that he was silently judging me.  Not only that, but he was probably staying within the lines, too.

I was keen to avoid a repeat of the orange peel incident and ensure that I wasn’t left looking foolish in front of my fellow passengers, particularly when I could recall that a good, ripe peach has the potential to be very juicy.  It was this that was troubling me, in addition to the furry texture of the skin, which was key to my uncertainty over how the fruit should be eaten.  I used the Safari browser on my phone to Google the phrase “how to eat a peach,” and the first result was a WikiHow page which offered the helpful advice that a peach is eaten like an apple.  Confidently I sunk my teeth into the skin and found that the fruit was not entirely ripe.

My first calling point in Glasgow was MacSorley’s on Jamaica Street, a city centre bar which had reopened the previous Friday following its closure in 2018.  I had a faint memory of a busy night drinking in there with a wild-haired friend some years earlier, and it seemed like a good location to while away a couple of hours before the Jesse Malin gig I was attending later in the night.  The bar was the brightest I had seen anywhere, with late afternoon sunlight falling in through the impressive stained glass windows and an entire solar system of spotlights sparkling from the ceiling.  A selection of music was playing over some speakers, though the volume would suddenly go from being very loud to barely audible, in the way of a conversation in the pub, and I was left tapping my foot to a beat I couldn’t quite hear.

The couple along the other side of the bar from me was keeping a more steady volume, and they seemed to be involved in a dare which had challenged them to speak exclusively using words that were four letters long.  After a drawn-out dispute over the technicalities of saving a photograph from a WhatsApp message to use as a screensaver, the couple asked one of the barmen for suggestions of a drink that the raspberry-haired woman could try as an alternative to vodka, which seemingly is much too easy to drink and doesn’t last nearly as long as a pint of lager.  The barman poured various schooners of Heineken, Amstel, fruit ciders and Neck Oil IPA, and despite the latter drink’s pleasing elderflower fragrance, the woman decided that she would have another vodka after all.  I was watching the scene unfold with interest and the cynic within me wondered whether it was all an elaborate rouse to score some free drinks, rather than a genuine concern over equity.

My observation of the couple had provided a brief distraction from my ongoing curiosity regarding the dish of blueberries behind the bar, beside the wedges of lemon and lime.  I couldn’t determine what use a blueberry would have in a pub, and I was thinking about it so much that it was all I could do to ask the barmaid when it came time to order another beer.  The young woman behind the bar had a stature that put me in mind of a cocktail stick, and I worried that my question would knock her over.

“I can’t stop looking at the pile of blueberries there.  What kind of drinks would you use them in?”

“I’m not really sure,” the barmaid bristled.  “No-one has ever asked that.”  Considering that the bar had not yet been open for a week it didn’t come as a surprise to me that no-one had asked about the blueberries, though it seemed inevitable that they would in time.

The barmaid’s striking pink eye shadow must have mirrored the colour of my cheeks when she suggested that she would ask her supervisor about the blueberries.  After a few moments she returned with a tall man who had a beard which implied knowledge and wisdom.  The barmaid told her supervisor about my blueberry query, and suddenly my vague attempt at flirtatious banter had turned into a full-scale investigation.  I sunk into my barstool the way my heart had been sucked into my liver as the barman explained that sometimes people like blueberries with vodka and lemonade, or occasionally in gin or combined with a daiquiri.  Now the music gets louder, I was thinking as they walked away.

Before I left MacSorley’s for King Tut’s I made use of the bathroom, where I discovered a large chalkboard on the back wall of the men’s room.  The board was headed ‘The Graffiti Wall’, and it was presumably a device installed to prevent people from inscribing telephone numbers on the doors of cubicles with suggestions of a pleasant night.  On top of the hand dryer, which was adjacent to the Graffiti Wall, sat two pieces of white chalk, and as I was drying the water from my hands I was feeling the urge to make my own addition to the board.  Hands up if you like to pee seemed in keeping with traditional toilet humour, but I became worried about the integrity of the writing equipment and thought better of handling it.  The Graffiti Wall seemed like a good idea all the same, though, and as I walked to King Tut’s I spent some time considering how it would be used in Aulay’s Bar.

Although Jesse Malin had played his debut album The Fine Art of Self-Destruction in full in November 2011 to mark the tenth anniversary of its release, and there wasn’t any obvious reason for doing it again eight years later, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to hear it performed live once more.  The Fine Art of Self-Destruction was one of the seminal records of my budding adulthood.  It came at a time when I was learning about the types of music I enjoy and the bands I was wanting to spend my time listening to.  The first ten tracks on the album* were perfect, and the eleventh song, Xmas, was sometimes quite good to listen to around the month of December.

King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut has a way of appearing to be part museum and part advertisement at the same time.  Three-quarters of the walls around the bar have been decorated by a variety of tour posters dating as far back as the early 1990s from bands such as Pulp, Supergrass, Manic Street Preachers, and The Strokes.  The stairs leading up to the concert venue itself have been adorned with the names of many of the acts who have played at Tut’s over the years.  Meanwhile, the area of the bar nearest the entrance is a parade of posters and leaflets advertising the upcoming bands and artists who are aspiring to become the latest addition to the exhibition on the opposite walls and on the stairway.

As the bar was filling up prior to the doors to the venue opening at 8.30, I was glancing around the museum-like portion of King Tut’s, becoming increasingly convinced that I might be the youngest person in the entire room, and if not the youngest then I was certainly in the most youthful 5%.  I was beginning to perform a quick head count of my fellow gig-goers, but after a while it seemed that I would be more efficient counting the number of heads without grey hairs on them.

When I am at home and in Markie Dans it usually seems to be true that everyone around me is getting younger, but the opposite was the case at my recent experiences of attending gigs, where everyone else looked to be getting older.  I found myself scouring the scene around King Tut’s trying to spot the twenty-year-old version of myself:  the guy who fifteen years earlier was travelling to gigs in the city by himself, dressed in jeans and a checked shirt which invariably was a combination of black plus one other colour, with a dark suit jacket decorated with novelty badges bearing amusing slogans and superhero logos, although the Batman and Superman buttons were soon claimed by girls who I would never see again.  I couldn’t find the young adolescent version of myself in Tut’s, however, and if he was there he must have done a better job than I ever did of finding company at a gig.

During my brief time in Glasgow I was gradually becoming aware of a new habit I seemed to have been developing where I would use the word perfect as a prefix to ‘thank you.’  An example of this would be when I was asked how my stay was by the young man on reception at the Euro Hostel upon checking out on Friday morning.  My room in the hostel was on the ninth of nine floors and had a single bed which required to be made up from the small pile of linen sitting atop the mattress on my arrival.  The bathroom was small – so small, in fact, that it almost made my own bathroom at home seem luxurious. It was so compact that they had to plumb the wash hand basin outside the bathroom.  When asked how I enjoyed my night in the Euro Hostel, I replied:  “It was perfect, thank you.”  It wasn’t the first time I had heard myself use perfect in this way, and when I said it again in Aulay’s later that evening I couldn’t help but feel that it was a very high standard to be setting.  Where can you go after a pint of Tennent’s Lager and a £5 all you can eat breakfast in the Euro Hostel has been described as being perfect?

Over the course of a few months the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had, through means of either romance or sickness, dwindled to just a lonely heart.  I walked into Aulay’s wearing a black sleeveless v-neck sweater over a burgundy wine shirt and a navy blue tie, even though I had spent most of my day on a train rather than in the office.  Over the course of an hour or so groups of implausibly young looking people were arriving in the bar, apparently on their way to the high school leaver’s dance, which was being held next door in the Royal Hotel.  Many of the youngsters were dressed in outfits far more colourful than I had ever dared to dream of wearing, while their ID cards were forcing the bar staff to perform mental arithmetic much faster than I was capable of.  I was discussing the idea of a leaving dance across the bar with the moonlighting banker when I remarked that they never had anything like that when I was in school.  As soon as the words had left my mouth I realised that it was the perfect thing to say if I was hoping to convince someone that I was getting old.

I was still reeling from my realisation regarding my increasing age when I stuttered through the bar to the men’s bathroom, where a lone silver-haired patron was finishing up at the urinal.  I slunk over to the far side of the short steel trough and unzipped my trousers in a fashion which I hoped would not attract any attention.  Steam was barely beginning to form when a voice belonging to the only other man in the room piped up.  “£3 a pint just to pish it away.”  There was a brief pause, and in the silence I couldn’t find it within myself to dispute his understanding of the human digestive system.

“And then they expect us to wash our hands?  Fuck them!”  The silver-haired man stormed out of the bathroom in an act of rebellion against hygiene that I had become all too familiar with during my time in the bars, though I supposed that at least this man had given a reason for his uprising, even if I couldn’t be entirely sure who the they that he was referring to were.  I was staring ahead at the empty tiling before me, hoping for a Grafitti Wall that would stop people from talking to me at the urinal.

Towards the end of the night I found myself in Markie Dans, which was quieter than usual for a Friday in June.  A bar band was playing the last of its set to a floor which was slowly emptying.  Of the collection of people who were still scattered around it seemed obvious that if I wasn’t the oldest person in the bar, I was in the upper 1%.  It was an experience entirely different to the previous night, almost like the feeling you get when you have used the last sheet of kitchen towel and you know that there is still an oily pan needing to be wiped clean.  I wasn’t feeling at ease with it and left for home, where there was still a single peach left in the fruit bowl, sitting amongst a bunch of evergreen bananas.  By the end of the week the peach was just like everything else.  It had finally ripened and grown old.

Listen to The Fine Art of Self-Destruction by Jesse Malin here

*Cigarettes and Violets didn’t appear on the UK release of The Fine Art of Self-Destruction, although it features on the Spotify version.

This is still life

It occurred to me recently, some time on a Saturday night, I think, that nothing ever really changes.  I get out of bed at the beginning of the week, brush my teeth and do my hair, and go back to bed when the week has finished.  In between, there are a series of events which repeat themselves in a loop, like a fairground ride – though more often it is something slow and safe, such as the teacups, rather than the Big Dipper.  It was when I was standing in The Oban Inn debating whether a puddle of beer on the surface of the bar looked more like an angel or a map of the country of Ireland as viewed by a bat that I decided that I could do with a day or two away from the town.

The puddle in the Oban Inn looked either like an angel or the map of Ireland turned upside down

With a rucksack three quarters filled with my most precious belongings and a change of underwear for two days, I made a midweek trip to Glasgow and Edinburgh:  two cities which I have seen enough of for them to no longer wow me, but which are affordable and close enough for a single man who relies solely on train timetables to travel to.  If nothing else, it was at least going to give me something grander to look at.

On the way to Edinburgh, a Spanish woman wearing a red knitted jumper was bounding from one end of the carriage to the other taking photographs of the countryside, the way I urgently leap up from my sofa if I think I have forgotten to switch off the towel rail.  To me the scenery was unremarkable, nothing I had not seen before, but to this tourist everything was new and worthy of capturing forever.  Frolicking lambs, horse boxes, green hills looming on the horizon, an ambulance with its blue lights flashing, road signs, an advertisement for a vintage car show, a heavy goods lorry.  I was worrying for the health of her phone once she saw the sights that Edinburgh had to offer

The warm, cloudless sky in the west was growling with grey the further east we travelled.  Out of the window on the left, the sun could be seen hiding behind a sprawling white cloud, giving it a crackling pink hue, like dropping a rose petal into a glass of Alka Seltzer.  On the right side of the train, the clouds were ominously black, and it was as though the sky had been split in two.  Switching my attention between the pair of opposing views put me in mind of the moments shortly before I decide to go up and talk to a girl at the bar and I can foresee the two potential outcomes:  the idealistic blue sky scenario where she smiles at my jokes and we hit it off like the sun nestling behind a cloud, or the imposing black clouds which loom large and only spell trouble.  Soon the sky erupted and a mighty rain cascaded down against the windows of the train, the drops as big as passion fruit seeds.  For a few minutes all anyone could see was rain.

In Glasgow I had visited some of my favourite bars for a few early afternoon beers, although at one o’clock Nice N Sleazy is more nice than sleazy and in Variety I was the only patron.  Edinburgh demands a more cultured approach, however, and I decided that I would go somewhere I had never been before and take a walk around the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

The Scott Monument sitting against a blanket of grey clouds

While I have often enjoyed visiting art galleries, I have never really known how to react to art.  I always preferred words because they tell me how I should be feeling, and I know where I stand with words.  With paintings and photographs there is a lot more room for interpretation, which is troublesome for me when my interpretation of things is often wildly different to what was intended; something which has become increasingly evident the more I try to wear pink socks to match a tie which everybody else insists is coral pink.  One painting which featured, amongst other figures, Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Jesus, carried the description that the woman was displaying remorse and repentance, when to me it looked like she had drawn the short straw.

As I worked my way around the various displays, I was spending more time reading the descriptions on the cards positioned next to the artwork than I was studying the actual art, though even they did not prove terribly helpful.  In the gothic room, I was vexed by such phrases as “the suggestive tying of a garter” and “the placement of a glass jug indicating that the sitter was a glassmaker.”  All I could see was a man who cared deeply about fashion and a clumsy mistake, like when a selfie is botched by a thumb which has crept over the lens of the camera.

The employees of the National Portrait Gallery were floating across the floor without it being immediately obvious what they were doing.  In the section dedicated to Scottish art, an expressionless bearded man, dressed in the uniform of a white shirt with an emerald green tie, was sitting on a chair which was backed against the wall.  It was as though his features were sculpted from marble, and only his eyes could move as he observed the room.  Although I was looking at a piece by David Wilkie, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering if the people working in the gallery ever become bored with seeing the same things every day, the way the rest of us suffer the mundane things in our own jobs such as spreadsheets or grinding coffee beans.  In my mind’s eye, I could see the man turning up for work at nine o’clock in the morning, buoyed by a walk under pale blue sky, and he reports to his supervisor to find out which room he has been assigned for the day.  “Rembrandt again,” he sighed to himself, his wispy white beard ruffled with disappointment.

Near the Van Gogh, a pair of employees in matching tartan skirts were discussing their imminent lunch plans.  One of the women was scheduled to take her break at one o’clock, while the other was going to have to wait until two, although she was meeting her boyfriend at Yo Sushi and it was probably going to be worth the wait.  I had worked my way round to the portrait of the Three Tahitians, by which time I was feeling like the man who was caught in the middle of the woman offering indulgence with the mango and the second woman in the painting, who was offering convention with the wedding ring.

The only piece of art which really grabbed my attention was the 1708 work by Thomas Warrender titled Still Life;  a portrait of a random collection of the artist’s belongings, amongst which were a quill, a comb, some playing cards, and a baby blue bow tie.  I was entranced by the picture, which was presumably the 18th century equivalent of me lining up a small pocket notebook, a Zebra Z-Grip Smooth pen, a pocket square and a bottle of Joop! aftershave and taking a photograph with my phone.  I was staring at it until it went black, completely immersed in the whole idea, until somewhere in the distance a mobile phone went off, and the owner took a call on loudspeaker.  On the other end, a woman with an elegant and well-prepared voice was asking if the recipient of the phone call could spare a few minutes to take part in a survey.  The person with the phone, whose face I never saw, disappeared into the next collection, and it didn’t take much to guess what their own Still Life portrait would look like.  At times of intense loneliness, I have often thought about the way that the whole world can feel like our own enclosed space, and this seemed like another of those instances.

With culture firmly in mind, I thought that I would retire to my favourite bar in Edinburgh, Brass Monkey, to consider all that I had seen.  On my way there I walked past a man on North Bridge who was dressed in a robe which was the colour of a baboon.  On his head he wore a red beanie hat, while his dark beard was dishevelled and stained with shades of grey.  He was standing on the pavement ranting loudly at passers-by, with it becoming clear as I approached that the subject of his discontent was Robinson Crusoe. It wasn’t obvious what his trouble with the character was, but he seemed upset by it all the same.  Further up the road on Infirmary Street, a large group of people, presumably on a walking tour, were stopped outside Cafe Nero listening to a man speak.  Meanwhile, on the nearby stoop of an empty premises, a man was wrapped in a blue nylon sleeping bag.  Life is insecure, and hope full oft fallacious as a dream.

I was reviewing my notes in Brass Monkey when my attention was caught by something I had never before seen at a bar.  The barman sat a glass which was around two-thirds filled with ice on the bar in front of a man who was of average height and wearing a grey t-shirt.  Next to the glass was a green bottle of Schweppes tonic water, which the man proceeded to pour into the glass, which I presumed to have a measure of gin or vodka on the bottom.  Floating on the surface of the drink, cradling the blocks of ice like a buoy at sea, was what appeared to be an egg – still in its shell and all.  The more I looked at the scene the more certain I was that I was seeing an egg garnishing an alcoholic drink.  I waited for around twenty minutes to find out what would happen when the man reached the end of his beverage, as to that point all he had been doing was drinking around the egg as it bobbed against his hairy upper lip.  Finally he was on the last mouthful of his refreshment, and I was eagerly anticipating the moment where he was surely, I imagined, going to crack the shell against the rim of the glass and down the raw egg.

Is this an egg?

Instead he ordered another drink – the same again – and when he finished the first, he set the glass aside with the egg still intact, before pouring a fresh bottle of tonic water into the second glass, which also had what seemed to be an egg floating in it.  The process was repeated all over again, and it struck me that I would have been as well looking at an impressionist painting in the National Portrait Gallery, because I couldn’t understand any of it.  Why was the egg in the glass?  Why didn’t he break it?  Was it even an egg?  If it wasn’t an egg, then what was it?  I asked an Italian waiter each of these questions later in the evening and he only stormed off uttering words in his native tongue which sounded like they were indicating confusion.

Even though I had only been out of town for two days, I returned to see that Aulay’s Bar had been painted on the outside.  The coat was so fresh that the fumes could still be detected inside the bar, though the smell was probably no more intrusive than the regular fragrances that linger around a pub.  Over an intoxicating pint of Tennents Lager, the plant doctor and I resumed our usual topics of conversation as we discussed which of us would be more likely to be my brother’s best man if there was ever a scenario where he was getting married, Paolo Nutini puns, the merits of whether a disagreement is a £5 argument or a £10 argument and later in the night we both received a goodnight kiss on the cheek from Geordie Pete, which we agreed had a familiar feeling.

For a change of scenery we ventured to the Balmoral after watching the Scottish Cup final, where there were more people than the last time I had drank in there years earlier, and the carpet wasn’t nearly as sticky.  On my left-hand side appeared a woman who was a lot younger than everyone else in the bar.  Her hair was the colour of shaded sunlight, and she ordered a pint of Magners Cider.  The barmaid was a quick server, leaving me little time to consider my options.  As she took the glass in her hands, I blurted out the only thing I could think of and asked how her day was going.  The woman was having a good day, and our conversation seemed to be developing well.

In the space of a few minutes I learned that she was twenty-six-years-old – which was older than I had guessed – and that she was visiting Oban from Glasgow for the weekend with her mother, as it was a town they had come to often when she was younger, and she had promised to take her mum once she returned from a year living in Australia.  It was all I could do when she mentioned this fact to let her know that I had recently watched the Australian film Wolf Creek, which was based on a true story about a group of young travellers who were abducted and brutally tortured by a psychopath.  The woman didn’t respond to this piece of information, and instead took her drink and returned to the company of her mother at their table on the opposite end of the room.

I left the Balmoral a short time later, while a steady rain was falling from the bleak sky.  After a week during which I had a brush with Van Gogh, Gauguin and Da Vinci, I was still going to bed at the end of it all, waiting to get back on to the teacups to start it all over again.  I had seen the blue sky, but I was still searching to understand the meaning of it all.

May I make a playlist? My Spotify soundtrack for the month of May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Would you mind not having a bath?”

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

“Can I at least shower?”  I queried.

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

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

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

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

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

Without hesitation she responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, okay, if God said it…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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