Monday, 25 August 2003


Since the 1st of October last year I have kept a text message from my friend Silaja on my phone. All it says is "redwov?" The time was about 8.48am and when I received it, I was sleeping on the floor of my sister's living room, above The Branch Tavern, the pub of which she was co-manager. Si and I had had some sort of conversation about going back to uni and the reading that we had or hadn't done. She sent the first message and it was that which had woken me up, despite the efforts of my alarm clocks (note the plural). I could not work out what I had meant by "redwov" and had deleted my message to her as soon as I had sent it; she had deleted it too, so there was no way of finding out the context in which it was typoed. I promised myself then that I would keep her message on my phone until I could work out what it was I had meant. At times, that has been the only message in my Inbox - standing resolute - a symbol not only of that lost conversation, but also of our fading, forgotten friendship.

But, yesterday I worked it out. I have tried to think my way through it before, but have never succeeded. I repeated a tactic that I did not think would be any use: typing out the letters in predictive text to see what new combinations my Nokia would come up with. All it could think of (clever bunny) was "redwov", but we both knew that already. So I looked at the wee letters on the buttons and thought, "Maybe I meant to type two words and didn't put the space in between them..." Sure enough, typing out "Red wov" brought up straight away "See you". EUREKA! I had done it at last! I texted Si straight away in the dumb hope that she would be interested, or at least touched to hear from me. No reply as yet. No alarms. No surprises.

And another thing: there's this club in Oxford called Down Town Manhattan, which is known by everyone as DTMs. It's a dive, as far as I know: everyone complains about it, vowing never to return, but somehow, they always do. It's full of easy pulls, apparently, so it's a popular joint during Freshers' Week, and at the end of drunken nights when it seems like a good idea. You can usually get in for nothing with a sticker that says "I'm FREE at DTMs tonight". I've never been, and I'm hardly itching to pop that particular midnight cherry. Anyhews, if you type in "dtms" on your phone in predictive text, guess what you get: "dump"! How cool is that? I bet the Nokia engineers are on to something. Maybe it's one of those Easter Egg thingies, like you get on DVDs and shit.

Sunday, 10 August 2003

Dewar Kid

I went to watch the first football match of the new Scottish League First Division season this afternoon. The supporters' bus - sponsored by the newly formed Honest Men Trust - left the Somerset Park Hospitality Suite (know in my family as the "Executive Portacabins") at the back of 1pm, bound for Clyde FC's Broadwood Stadium in Cumbernauld. Ayr United (my team) lost 3-0, but it's not the match that has left an impression on me.

I was sitting right next to the segregation tape to the right-hand side of the Ayr supporters' section. Sometime before kick-off, a guy who looked like my dad (or Willie Thorn, the snooker player) appeared from the tunnel with a wee kid next to him. I thought at first that they were together, but the man climbed up the steps to sit level with me across the barricades, while the kid stayed down the front of the section. Usually I can't stand kids - especially at football matches: I think most of them are little shits - but this Dewar Kid was different.

I guess he was about 8-10 years old. The first thing that struck me about him was his greasy hair. His haircut wasn't very fashionable, kinda mushroom-topped and uneven. Then the poor wee bastard turned around and I saw his thick, free-on-the-NHS spectacles. You know those ones where the frames are so thick that the kid compensates for their weight by tilting his face up too high when he's looking at you; the ones that are constantly slipping down to the end of his tiny wee nose. Bless 'im. He was wearing an old Clyde top, with pointy red arrows on the shoulders and "Dewar 11" on the back (was this his surname, or his favourite player from a previous season, I wondered), and a striped red, black and white scarf. He was sitting in a row all by himself, with red barriers in front of him, which he leaned on with his milky, candle arms. I couldn't figure out who he was with, if Willie Thorn wasn't his dad. Was he here all by himself? At that age? Most kids at football matches have an accompanying adult, even if they are allowed to run off wherever they want once they're over the turnstiles - usually causing havoc and annoyance to me. But this kid looked like a loner. There were other wee boys playing together in the section in front of him, but there was no chance of him joining them; he was too much of a weirdo, too much of a loner, and he would never have the confidence to go and join them, even if invited. He had probably been burned too many times before. This sort of kid is an easy target for bullies. My heart went out to the wee fella. Bless 'im.

I started to imagine what his home would be like. He probably came from one of the rougher parts of Cumbernauld, which I think is one of those '60s New Towns. He probably didn't have a dad; only a fat mum who didn't love him. She probably didn't even know where he was; probably didn't even care. She probably beat him just for being there. And I bet his personal hygiene was bad - as the greasy hair would suggest. The girls would probably refuse to sit next to him in primary school. He'd be wearing really cheap school uniform from Woolworth's or What Everyone Wants. His wee grey trousers would have an elasticated waist-band. He probably still wets the bed. Bless 'im. I bet this wee kid is actually really nice, but just isn't given a chance, isn't given the love he deserves.

But how did he get enough money to be at the game? Did he steal it from his mum's purse while she was asleep in front of the telly? Did she give it to him to get rid of him for the afternoon? Or was he one of those wee boys who waits around by the turnstiles until some obliging man lifts him over because he used to be helped in for free when he was a kid? But that wouldn't work at Broadwood: the turnstiles are head-high. In any case, if this wee boy doesn't wash very often, would anyone want to lift him up and over?

I watched him occasionally throughout the game. When Clyde scored, he enjoyed it, tentatively. You could see him desperate to be a part of the crowd. He kept looking over to his right, where the vocal section of the Clyde home support were chearing and dancing in time to the cheesy music, jiving their arms in the air. He copied them, but it was a little half-hearted, as if he was cautious of being clipped round the ear. After the third goal, he glanced across to the Ayr fans in triumph, smiling, with his nose scrunched up trying to support his glasses. He's probably seen other fans during more heated matches taunting each other across the segregation line. This was his gentle boast. Bless 'im. He was so cute! And I don't even like kids!

Even though I'm an Honest Man, and I want to see my team win, I didn't mind losing too much this afternoon, if it meant that this wee Dewar Kid got a little bit of joy in his day.

"Dude, Where's My Car?"

And there was this one time...I was in Brighton, staying at my sister's. We were in the mood for some crap movies, "snacks and treats"; so we headed round the corner to Blockbuster. Our inspired selections were Dude, Where's My Car? and Jack Frost 2. At the counter, after paying, the assistant read out the names of the videos: "Dude, Where's My Car?" he said. My sister - who was evidently some place else - was like, "Err, I don't know! Parked outside?" Now I know what my mum was on about when she told us that too much TV fries your brains.

Sunday, 3 August 2003

The Almost Apologetic Beauty of the Everyday

I'm sitting here thinking about that cup of tea I had today: it was during that lazy gap you get in mid-afternoon between lunch and dinner: kinda like the Witching Hour, except in daylight: that time on a Sunday afternoon when your dad would doze off in front of the second test at Lord's, or the golf, or whatever else was on Grandstand. I, on this occasion, had just woken up from a snooze myself - one of those violent, breathless punctures in your day, from which you wake with aching eyes and a hot, shining face. Mother had just offered to make me a cuppa as I was still coming round. I had gladly assented in a clear voice that surprised my drowsy-mindedness. An attempt, perhaps, to seem more cheerful than I felt after my second bed-head of the day.

The mug was now sitting, watching me from the coffee table, just above my eyeline from the recline of the couch. The waning late-afternoon summer shot in through the window. I knew the sky was a mirror of the sea, but I could only see the upper reflection. Yet it was still a comfort to know that the cool waves were licking the playdough of sand only a mile down the hill. The mug had been twiddling its thumbs for a couple of minutes now, humming inaudibly under its rasping breath. The whispy vapour-trails of steam were silkily floating above the mug's lips, gyrating for just a few gorgeous seconds before sneaking off into that behind-the-scenes curtain above a heat-haze in the Mid-West. The steam curled with the Parisian languor of cigarette smoke in a café, but with a thinner, paler, more ghostly face. It reminded me of a view that I had had of my brother from a similar aspect just a few nights before.

I was lying low in my make-shift bed on the floor of the dining room, still awake, but not long after going to bed. The hair at the back of my neck and behind my temples was still damp from when I washed my face, cooling as it dried, like outdoor winter sweat. My brother was also going to bed in the other room, but was a little later than me in performing his goodnight rituals. First I hear the front door hitch on its latch, and then the faint click of the security light tripping over the motion of my brother on the doorstep, throwing his fresh cigarette smoke into brilliant relief between the deep dark navy sky and the condensated window pane which was filtering and focusing my view of this midnight cameo. I could hear my brother exhale with the same clarity as if I was standing next to him on the bare-footed doorstep. The smoke rushed from unseen mouth to exit top-left in the manner of dry-ice. The warm tobacco vapour dipped slightly, half-way through its incline, before it merged with the condensation of the window pane in the foreground, simplifying the image of itself back into two dimensions. Occasionally, a dash of bright colour would tease my tired eyes - first swallow-diving on the right, then upwards on the left - a flicker on my late-night movie screen. My brother probably didn't know he was being watched, but was thinking that the light would be shining upon my face through the glass. Soon, the dreamy theatre was over, the remnants of the cigarette a mere fading glow among the pebbles of the drive, and my brother's mind soothed by the yellow nicotine, unwinding like the smoky vapour as it drifted off into the sleep of night sky.