Rodger Evans: Socks & Druids & Rock n’ Roll
I blink. The nuclear white-out of the accordionist’s socks reflects in my cheap sunglasses. I speculate. Can Dizzy Gillespie’s footwear have shone so bright? I time travel.
Did it peeve Cab Calloway? A further question: Why am I wearing shades at a ceilidh? It can hardly be for reasons of faux anonymity. We’re not from round these Highland parts and we might as well be wearing the hoops in a sea of red, white and blue. A moustachioed local glowers our way and flicks the v-s but the womenfolk are more interested in drink and gossip than giving these townie freaks a second glance. The band is playing a reel but we don’t dance or drink or converse. We came – we saw the socks – we were conquered.
Having been carousing the afternoon away, our dishevelment comes less from sozzlement than the fear that shadows paranoia. I revise that bit in The Wild One, the bar scene with Marlon Brandon and Mary Murphy. What are you frightened of, Johnny? To which he method mumble replies: What have you got? A cigarette dangling from his lip, he proffers a Marlboro soft pack. It’s empty but I’ve got a B&H lit anyway. Johnny, I notice, is wearing designer sunglasses. It’s neither cowboy smokes nor Ray Bans he gifts me, though, but the hostages of thought. Here is what the hostages of thought have to say: We’re kittens in a knotted sack. We’re blue bloods on a date with Madam Guillotine. We’re children of the Wolf Spider. I execute the hostages of thought.
A cry, mine I believe, floats out a window of the community hall and across the car park, over the woods and into the Loch, where it cuts short the evening song of a Magpie, spooks a courting couple, and spins Cameron – a heavily tattooed canoeist, part-time druid and recreational drug user from Oban – full circle. Meanwhile, back among the farmers’ boys and their more-Popeye-than-Olive-Oil girlfriends…
We city slickers return from the toilet en masse. Chewing gum and retuning the frequency of the universe, we welcome the phosphorescent snow storm of that Terry Towelling. It dispels thought or feeling. Having spent 15 minutes – it seems more like a Sunday afternoon circa 1973 – avoiding all human interaction, now we depart in the manner of a funeral conga. Radiation still a-glow in our eyes.
Somehow we make it back to the cottage, a car in front having been pulled over by the polis. Drink driving? We celebrate with a game of 5s that lasts several hours – including injury time, mystical interlude and refreshments. It’s a home international, England v Scotland, in which I, the Jockney, play one way then the other. St George triumphs after award of a dubious penalty and the ball hits the back of the nettles. We’re without a referee and the night is made of dark stuff but no matter for this is Carry on Corinthians and what counts is the halftime walkabout – that and surviving the onslaught of the vampire midges.
Rob, half-Moses half-Hendrix, shirtless, staff in hand, leads us through hillside and blackness and things that go bite in the night. Somebody falls in a ditch. I don’t smoke but I scrounge cigs off Colin even though the plumes don’t seem to much deter the haemoglobin-hungry no-see-ums. A post-match after-quest comedown convenes in the kitchen. Stu is eating handfuls of muesli from the packet. I photograph the kettle whilst it whistles a hymn I last heard in primary three. That smell is burning toast. Donald is talking about what we talk about when we talk about love, also his plans to write a Trainspotting for Jambos. Roger is telling a punch line that never knew its joke. Sides ache but the water nymphs beckon.
Loch-side at sunrise and it transpires that Monet and Turner were there earlier with a box of crayons. There’s no evidence of the local legend but one of Ritchie’s socks floats by. The one he’s not wearing. We smoke and think and walk and smoke and talk over one another and somebody spins a pebble and it skips five maybe six times on the mirror surface.
The sky ripples. Were she to put in an appearance now, I’d give Nessie a hug – or a cigarette. At the cottage, I attempt a shower. I don’t know if the water’s hot or cold but it washes away worry and I hum a number from South Pacific. Wary of the bites, I pat rather than rub myself dry before putting the same clothes back on.
On the A9 that morning, assessing what condition my condition is in, I’m pale and tired and my midge bites surely make me look like a Georges Seurat canvas viewed up close.
In less than three hours I’m folding my limbs out of Roger’s car with the deliberation of a mime artist and wanting to plant a papal kiss on the Dundas Street pavement. On this this most fragile day in the 25th year of my being, the ballooning chip wrappers and chewing gum splats make way for butterflies and snowflakes. I am love. In the gutter I see not the detritus of the city but confetti and rose petals and astronaut tickertape. I am supreme. And ignoring the car fumes and late Saturday afternoon clamour this new town breeze is pure and cool and welcoming.
I offer the lads a desultory wave and, clutching my One-Up bag of cassettes, a copy of a now defunct music paper and a half pack of polo-s, skip up the staircase. But before I can turn the key, my girlfriend opens the door to a piteous sight in a cloud of giggles.
“Paul and Elaine are in the bath,” she says, words played in the key of inscrutability.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m glad you’re home.”
Seurat’s handy-work smiles back.
The bathers hail me.
And from the radio in the kitchen a Scottish folk tune is playing.
I put my sunglasses on.