Time for the cinema, and some magic in the dark. The screen lights our faces and soon we see home – a wonderful, sky-sliding shot of Leith and Edinburgh pickled mustard by the early morning sun. The lump is already in my throat and I’m going to have lots of trouble with my contact lenses tonight, even though I don’t wear contact lenses. Sunshine on Leith. We’ve been waiting for this. Our world on screen, our words with cellos and dances.
“Why did they numpties go tae the New Toon tae get tae The Shore? Bampots. Nae wonder they goat that other laddie killt in Afghanistan. Must’ve goan through Taliban Street tae get back tae base.” The lady next to me is unwilling to suspend belief for the next ninety minutes. Interestingly, she is not remotely perturbed during the film when pub-fulls of characters on screen break into song and all know the same dance routines. “Ah’ve no’ been in that pub,” she says, “nae danger that’s in Leith.” “That’s no’ The Dockers! There’s nae radges in there for a start.” “What’s that fud up tae noo? Ah’d tell him tae get tae fuck if he turned up blootered and singin` in ma stair.”
And then, as if that was not enough, something in a night-time scene dawned on her.
“That’s…that’s fuckin’ GLASGOW!”
I’m stood waiting to cross the road when I see him on the opposite side. Ample white hair and egg-shaped red glasses, his chin stroked by a goat patch beard (Incidentally, he did have other features too, chiefly nose, mouth and eyes). I knew him and only stopped myself from waving because I couldn’t remember from where. Instead, I nodded from across the road. He ignored me, and then turned and looked behind himself to see who I was nodding at. How rude. How bloody rude. I’d definitely say something next time I saw him in wherever I knew him from. But where was it? A pub? Work? Football? Was he a friend’s relative? My own? I hadn’t seen my Dad in a few months, right enough. The Green Man awoke and we crossed, everything in slow motion, him the only person I could see in the throng like a beautiful woman with wavy hair and bouncy breasts in a shit film. As we came face to unrecognised face, I gave a nod again and he looked right on through, possibly at the beautiful woman with wavy hair and bouncy breasts crossing behind me. For whole minutes as I walked the pavement home I wondered who he was and felt perturbed by the snub. Had I changed that much since last I saw him, whoever he was? Had I put on weight? Were these skinny jeans really too young for me like my cat had said? No, cats can’t speak and I don’t have one. I placed my key in the front door and finally it hit me: he was Paul, a character from my daughter’s Guess Who? game.
To Chester Literature Festival, promoting the new book. My gig is in a grand old chamber of the Town Hall. The carpets have city crests weaved into them and a portrait of Lady Diana looks on, not exactly enthralled with my tales of travels in Luton, Burnley and all. It seems to go well. The audience ask a lot of questions. Afterwards I’m told about the 101-year-old lady in the front row. ‘I thought this was going to be about vaginas,’ she had whispered to the ticket man during my performance, and sure enough tomorrow’s lunchtime talk is all about female regions. ‘Mind you, there’s not much I can learn about them at my age,’ the owner of Chester’s oldest vagina had continued. That she stayed for the entire hour of my talk says something, and I’m not quite sure what.
In a café on a corner near home. The dark evenings are here, clawing the days from us. The sky’s been up all summer and it needs some shuteye. From the stereo spills Billie Holiday singing Cole Porter. Autumn time and the listening is easy. I close my eyes because this music wants to take me somewhere. That somewhere is fifteen or seventeen years back and my Grandma’s house. I’ve walked in because, as always, the front door is unlocked (‘Don’t worry, love. Mrs White over the road keeps an eye on the house.’) Grandma is in Her Chair, eyes closed, listening to the damp pianos and smothered saxophones of just this stuff. In turn, she is miles away, wartime or just after, living in her memories, always living in her memories. It’s a good place to be, a good skill to have. I open my eyes, look somewhere that might even be the sky and thank her for giving that skill to me.