The day I slept on the train

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The day I went to the game as a 33-year-old man


Like most people my age I am now a 33-year-old man.  I’m not quite sure how that happened, although I suspect that biology and the Gregorian calendar may have had something to do with it.  I mean, I always knew that there was a fairly good chance it could happen one day, but I’ve never really prepared for the reality of being the same age as Jesus when he met his demise.  This is the year that I finally have the opportunity to outlive our Lord and Saviour and I have no idea how to handle that sort of pressure.

I have been thirty-three for five days at time of writing and I haven’t achieved anything of note.  I did survive a rather severe hangover the day after my birthday, but I’ve yet to hear of anyone being knighted or indeed even sainted for that feat.  The first chance I had to make my mark on life as a thirty-three year-old man was going to be the challenge of surviving the hangover from post-work drinks on Friday enough to make the train to the football on Saturday.  Building schools and hospitals or saving vulnerable refugees is remarkable, but making it through a Saturday morning on little more than a £2.70 cup of ScotRail “coffee” is a true achievement.

I don’t think of myself as being ‘old’, although there are definite signs that I am no longer young.  There was this dazzlingly alluring young woman standing at the bar before the game and I couldn’t help but keep looking over in her direction.  She was wonderful and I felt a strong urge to walk up to the bar and talk to her.  But my subconscious wasn’t whispering enticingly to me that “you’re a 33-year-old man, go up and talk to her.”  Rather, it was screaming:  “You can’t talk to her…you’re THIRTY-THREE-YEARS OLD!!”’

With that said, I sat in my seat and watched as 25-year-old James Forrest went on a run and supplied the cross for 27-year-old Scott Sinclair to open the scoring, and as 20-year-old Moussa Dembele sealed the points from the penalty spot and 19-year-old Kieran Tierney earned another Man of the Match award and 20-year-old Liam Henderson was imperious in midfield and it struck me that I am older than the entire Celtic team on the field (I was made to feel a little better when Kolo Toure came off the bench.)  From being a 13-year-old idolising Pierre Van Hooijdonk and an 18-year-old worshipping Henrik Larsson to being 33 and being confronted with the fact that all of my footballing heroes are now younger than I am.  It was a sobering thought to occur at three o’clock on a Saturday.

Thirty-three needn’t be seen as the call for last orders on my youth, however.  33rpm (rounds per minute) was seen as the ideal speed at which to play a vinyl record, and it could be that 33-years-old is the finest pace to live your life.  After all, there have been many fine achievements accomplished by people of my age:  Vaudeville performer Walter Nilsson rode across the United States on an 8 1/2 foot unicycle;  Paul Raposo began studying watchmaking;  Robert Hensel set a world record for the longest non-stop wheelie in a wheelchair. Mr. Hensel, who was born with spina bifida, covered a distance of 6.178 miles.  The list goes on and on.

In retrospect yesterday was never likely to be my unicycle day.  I spent much of the early part of the day wandering in the coma of the drinks I had on Friday night.  When I went into Rhoderick Dhu I realised that the reason it seemed so unfamiliar two weeks ago to the place I had last visited several years earlier was that I wasn’t in Rhoderick Dhu at all prior to the Kilmarnock game, but instead had sauntered unaware into the bar next door.  Getting a half-time pie was an even greater ordeal than at Aberdeen.  Having waited in line for what felt like thirty-three years I finally reached the front of the queue and ordered a steak pie, handing over my £2.50 in the manner such transactions work.  The girl promptly returned and informed me that there were no steak pies left, so I said I would take a scotch pie instead.  She shuffled back across to the hot cabinet and moments later once again returned empty-handed.  “Sorry, there’s no scotch pies either.”  I just wanted a pie and intimated that I would take any type of pie.  “We’re completely out of pies,” she said.  “Would you like your money back?”  Faced with a choice of no pie and losing £2.50 or no pie and getting my £2.50 back I decided that I would take my £2.50 and go and join another queue for a pie for thirty-three years.  I eventually got my hands on one just as the second-half was kicking off.  It wasn’t worth the wait.

In a way that was a perfect metaphor for the game of football I watched.  Motherwell were stodgy and resilient and were unwilling to offer any change.  Celtic, though, never really looked as though they were going to be denied their steak pie, even if they did have to wait longer than expected for the meat.

Meanwhile, I struggled to finish my beers on the train home and frequently found myself drifting into slumber and being swiftly startled out of it.  My great achievement is going to have to wait for another day.

Final scores:
Celtic 2-0 Motherwell
Age 1-0 JJ

Playlist:
Destroyer – This Night
Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue
Ezra Furman and The Harpoons – Inside The Human Body
The Smiths – Meat is Murder
Conor Oberst – Ruminations