Coming out the pub and it’s raining, not raining in that persistent, annoying-but-tolerable way like rain is portrayed in movies, but falling in squalls, sideways and slanted but never straight down. Blow after blow of nature’s seasoned right hook, southpaw, right hook again, as we beleaguered losers give meaning to the term ‘soaking it up’.
There is a certain helplessness about this moment; drunk, cold and wet. These are the bleak 20 minutes when then pubs call ‘last orders’ and the only hope of maintaining the quickly fading ember of inebriation lies, depressingly, in the neon of a nightclub or the comprehensive cashlessness of the casino.
No decision had hitherto been made, the pub being too loud for meaningful conversation plus the collective age of our group meaning that toilet breaks were almost clockwork on the 20 minute mark on everything consumed after the third pint. Subconsciously, we were all avoiding having to choose, each and every person loath to accept the bleak reality of not having a very good time on a night out any more, and now without fail, the stinging rain clings to thinning hair and overly-ambitious beards and we look at each other: hopelessness tinged with suspicion and blame.
I’d never really intended to come out this evening anyway, if your heart’s not in it from the start, it’s best avoided. Sadly my arm had been twisted by someone-or-other due to the fact that whoseit was up from London, or over from the States, or through from Glasgow. Delete as appropriate. Thus with some latent sense of misplaced espirit de corps invoked I found myself reluctantly present.
The issue is there’s always a whoseit up from the polished south, or the incomprehensible New World, even going so far as to declare an occasion when someone boards a Queen Street eastbound service. Some poor bastard clinging to the rapidly diminishing idea of youth that we all once celebrated, but now look upon as some stricken dream, smeared like a stain over the rain-soaked cobbles of Edinburgh’s Old Town. I could have been in with a chippy, its warm vinegar infused aroma seeping through paper packaging onto my jeans as I watched Match of the Day with the prospect of a cup of tea and biscuits to follow. I could be far-removed from this scene of indecision that must process to another drinking establishment lest we be seen as something less than what we once were, something more than a pre-booked hangover stretching far into Sunday.
We huddle together as the pub door shuts, involuntary closeness necessitated by the cold. Our council stare down into the abyss of the Cowgate: bleakly-bouncered, bare halls, and the boke of Sambucca knocked back from a plastic cup, the same kind that they use for medicine in nursing homes. Ear-splitting, Radio 1 anonymity and the acrid smell of misspent youth. Or, across to the soulless, chrome world of George Street and beyond: eighties hits without a hint of irony, shirts, chinos, and identikit girls and boys whose consistent inaneness almost impresses. Seven-pound-a-bottle, imported beer, a longer cab ride back home, and the prospect of no fun whatsoever.
Everyone feigns enthusiasm, but there is an undercurrent of direst uncertainty, one in which the idea of having a good time harks back, again and again, to the simple joys of a hot shower and a warm bed. A sodden fiver remains as depressing evidence of a previous fifty, and the resulting short-change of drunkenness ebbs away with every passing moment. Grins like empty chasms fixed onto strained expressions, laughter forced out.
“What’s the craic then lads?”, whoseit almost admonishes our sorry band; his tone jocular, but hiding a voice laden with fatigue and despair.
“Cowgate!”, we all chorus, none of us willing to back down from this untenable position of utter apathy, and with that agreed we file down into the bowels of this old city, soaked through, half-sober and on into the wretched reaches of a broken Saturday night.
Cover image courtesy of Vincent WR via Flickr