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

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

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

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

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

“Would you mind not having a bath?”

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

“Can I at least shower?”  I queried.

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

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

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

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

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

Without hesitation she responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last few days of the year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Unfortunately my shift is actually finished now.”

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

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

 

 

The day I realised I had a crack in my sole


All good things are destined to come to an end at some time, be it potentially record-breaking winning streaks in the league or the sustainability of a fine pair of boots.  Unfortunately for me I experienced the expiration of both of those yesterday, and it would be difficult for me to deny that it wasn’t the latter which upset me the most.

In my time I have found that, much like a good woman (or a woman of any sort, really) a good pair of footwear is really difficult to keep a hold of.  I will often get a pretty solid couple of months out of a pair of shoes or boots – more than those aforementioned ladies – but soon find that they begin to fall apart.  And I have not yet been able to figure out where it is that I’m going wrong in my treatment of my footwear.

The pair of boots which I am currently wearing have been on my feet for less than two months.  Not continuously, of course; I take them off to shower, sleep and for at least five days a week when I am not casual JJ.  In that time I have grown fond of them.  They are a solid oak brown colour and can be worn with just about any outfit.  They have seen some sights in their short lifespan, notably a couple of visits out to Celtic Park, a wee venture to Manchester and one unexpectedly exhilarating train journey home.

But much like with every other piece of footwear I have owned in my life my relationship with these brown bad boys would become strained.  I was walking through the rain kissed streets of the east end of Glasgow when I felt an unexpected dampening of my socks.  I knew that I wasn’t engaging in any extreme sport and so, for once, this wasn’t sweat.  It could only be the puddles I was nonchalantly striding through – but how was that possible?


I sat through a frustrating 1-1 draw with Rangers at Celtic Park and forgot all about my leaky boots for a while, instead contemplating how a Partick Thistle fan might feel about the late equaliser Celtic conceded.  I reflected that it might be close to how a Celtic fan felt about the frustration at Firhill the previous day.

Following the disappointing outcome at the football I had approximately three hours to kill in The Raven, where I could sink pints of Caesar Augustus and shoegaze.  It was here that I realised that not one but both of my boots each have a crack etched all the way across the sole.  I’ve heard of a broken heart, but a broken sole??  (PS.  this possibly ties in with a joke I recently made at work, which was met with minimal fuss, when I asked if a pair of new sole traders might be in the business of selling shoes.)

I can’t figure out where it is that I’m going wrong with my footwear.  The casualty list is growing longer than the number of Rangers fouls which went without punishment yesterday and it seems impossible that it can’t be, in some slight way, my fault.  Are my feet too big?  Surely not if they are capable of crafting leather into my size.  Are my strides too powerful?  Am I treading on hazardous ground?  These are all questions I ask myself on a near-daily basis.

Those answers aren’t forthcoming as yet, but it is becoming clear that, a lot like with my current inability to stay asleep, I am possibly in need of lessons in shoe maintenance.  Perhaps some classes on developing a more fleet-footed gait will help protect my sole.  A tender soul is to be desired, after all.

Is there a right way to walk, or am I doing it correctly with my right-left-right-left etc. approach?

I am tentative when it comes to buying a new pair of boots or shoes.  I have a very short threshold of patience for shoe shopping, and it doesn’t help knowing that I am inevitably going to end up breaking the sole or poking a hole through them and I’ll be right back there sighing in that shoe shop.  Though as with the ending of a potentially record-breaking run of league wins, it seems like the best way of getting over the loss of a pair of boots is to jump feet first into the next ones.

Final scores:
JJ 0-1 Footwear
Celtic 1-1 Rangers

 

The day where we faced an unfamiliar foe

It has been a long time since we have experienced anything like this in Glasgow.  As much as you think you can prepare yourself for it nothing really can.  You walk into the stadium and the atmosphere is white hot. You can feel the beads of sweat forming on your forehead as you stand there completely immersed in it all.  Even though you try not to think about it – about the fierce enemy you are facing – you can’t help but focus on it.  It is right there staring you in the face.  It is loud and boisterous and colourful and angry; it wants you to know that it is there.  It has waited for this day for a long time and it is keen to shine.  But you are stubborn and you don’t want to look directly at it, you want to focus on the task at hand, you want to think about Celtic.

Even when the game kicks off your mind is on it.  You can’t help it; its searing energy is right there in your face.  No matter where you look, whichever area of the field you try and focus your attention on, this rarely seen rival is doing its best to divert your attention.

It was difficult to ignore the hot September sun.  From the moment I got off the train at Bellgrove I could feel it blazing from above.  Inside Celtic Park it was even hotter.  There were many things I expected from yesterday’s game:  a few goals, an intense atmosphere, a better half-time pie than my last visit, grown men in Rangers shirts somehow thinking that singing songs about paedophelia is an acceptable thing to do in society.  But one thing I certainly wasn’t expecting was to come away from a football game in Glasgow in September with sunburn.  My face was almost as red as Joey Barton’s surely was.

This was an almighty, fiery occasion.  There was a constant wall of sound accompanying a tapestry of every colour imaginable around the ground.  Observing the sea of red, white and blue flags across the ground in the away end, the elderly gentleman from Donegal sitting next to me remarked that he “didn’t know we were playing France today.”  We weren’t, but it was a young Frenchman who stole the show as Moussa Dembele netted a hat-trick, with every goal greeted with a booming, searing reaction.

That unfamiliar foe wasn’t going to do down without a fight, however.  There was still the long forty-five minute walk back to the city centre during which even the decision to go coatless offered little protection against the balmy elements.  It was a sticky and sweaty affair, and never was a post-match pint savoured more eagerly than when I reached The Raven.

Final scores:  Celtic 5-1 Rangers
                          September sun 1-0 JJ

Playlist:          Okkervil River – Away
                          Suede – Coming Up
                          Justin Townes Earle – Midnight At The Movies
                          Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark