I know the café is going to be good because it is nigh on empty. It also has those huge glass vats of juice with the spinning blade at the bottom, one orange, one yellow. In the corner a lady tells all who won’t listen about traffic. There are booths and banquettes, formica surfaces and cutlery constricted by white serviettes like gangster film bodies inside rugs.
I sit to peruse the menu (laminated, of course). A man turns around as he is leaving. When the bell above the door has faded he says ‘Have the chips, son. They’re the best chips money can buy. They taste like chips used to taste.’ Boy oh boy they do, and isn’t the idea of money not being able to buy a certain kind of chip joyous? They are spectacular. Crispy shells, juicy innards and a hundred different shapes. The chips are time machine food. I am eight again, Mum is out so Dad is making tea. I can smell the deep fat frier, hear its crackling, cackling rhythms, see the black stains that snake from its rim. ‘I’ll just make us egg and chips, son, that okay?’ Today, I finish the last one and the man comes back in and looks at me. ‘Told you, eh?’ he says, smiling.
Bonaly. Greendykes. Hillend: all destination names on the fronts of local buses. I am not convinced that any of these places exist. I have never noticed them on a map. I have never met anyone who has described themselves as a Bonalyan or is a proud resident of Hillend, and isn’t the end of a hill its brow or its foot in any case? I have never asked where something is and been told to get a 14 to Greendykes.
There are scores of these made up bus front places in this city. Clermiston? Not having it. Hunter’s Tryst? As if. Bush? Fucking Bush! With that one the people who make these things up have got lazy or arrogant; I’ll not be surprised if the number 44 soon claims to start from ‘Fanny’ or ‘Cockanbaws’. On that theme, Hyvots Bank sounds like a dwelling in which one deposits the unwanted remnants of a sexually transmitted disease. Baberton is clearly another world-changing Scottish inventor, and Ravelston Dykes his truly mad aristocratic uncle. ‘Lord Ravelston Dykes at your service, dear boy.’
Or so I thought until a recent lift across town. On that occasion I looked out of the window and saw a road sign denoting the start of ‘Clovenstone’. Truly, rancid light had been let in on magic.
There are a number of pleasures unleashed when you become the horrible iPhone person you pledged you would never be. In the street nobody expects you to glance up from your screen and look where you are going. This makes ignoring people you know but don’t want to know much easier. Then there are Apps to become momentarily enthusiastic about before never using again, because the idea of rain noises helping you go to sleep always seems like a good one at the time. In fact, the noise of rain just makes you need a really long wee. And here’s something: do men ever wee outside anymore? I’m sure the eighties and nineties were littered with males weeing up trees by B-roads or walls behind Odeon cinemas. Maybe there’s an App to answer that.
Anyhow, my latest whim is an App that lets you listen to radio stations from almost any country on earth. Given the endless intrigue and exoticism on offer, and the idea of listening to late night foreign radio during the British day, I always select the breakfast fare of local radio stations in the United Kingdom and Ireland. All of them are manned by chaps with very enthusiastic voices. These men are the go-to guys in Basingstoke or Bangor if you’ve a Farmfoods that needs opening, and they really do call people ‘guys’ (men and women).
The finest feature that runs in all of them is the daily text or email-in topic. ‘When have you been in another country’s hospital?’ they’ll ask, or ‘What’s the most interesting load you’ve seen spilled on a motorway?’ I listen and I dream of a disillusioned breakfast presenter airing in question his darkest thoughts. ‘What’s the worst thing you’ve ever looked at on the internet?’ perhaps, or ‘Have you ever stood in a local woodland area watching another man weeing?’