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.