11 July 2009

stubble scratching

Luke doesn’t smoke, but he steals a lot of cigarettes. It’s a habit we used to share. I was more honest about it. I admitted I was a smoker but was usually too broke to buy my own. Luke’s a drunk smoker. After x number of beers (or bottles of wine, measures of whisky, etc. etc.) he starts chaining somebody else’s cigarettes. Usually they’re his brother’s. Marcus is younger and as such tends to put up little resistance to this mooching.

We sat in the pub opposite the British Library and drank away our hangovers, the three of us, and Luke looked in horror as Marcus started rolling a cigarette.

‘What the fuck’s that?’

‘A rollie.’

‘That’s no good – you’re going to have to roll two every time.’


My hangover was particularly pronounced at this point, and I contributed little. There wasn’t much to add, really, just the odd chuckle. I rubbed my eyes a lot, and scratched my stubble – those little physical tics that seem to accompany the morning after.

Luke looked smart in a bespoke pin-striped suit, Marcus shabby in a blazer better-suited to a down-on-luck pensioner cracking open a tin of special brew. I wore shorts, flip-flops and a wrinkled shirt. I stood out a bit.

‘There’s a beer garden in the British Library.’ Luke’s kernel of information grabbed our attention. The bartering for cigarettes ceased. My beer slowly did its work and my hangover subsided. I stopped rubbing my eyes, though I still scratched my stubble occasionally.

‘Really?’ – Marcus and I, in chorus.

Beer garden was a bit of a stretch. There’s a terrace adjoining the café, and the café sells beer. Still, we pondered, it was theoretically possibly to organise a piss-up in the British Library. This delighted us. We set about a rough plan for such an event.

We’d have to be there for research. We agreed that the beers should be some manner of self-reward – we should do an hour or so’s worth of work before getting hammered. Luke chuckled mischievously, Marcus wandered outside to smoke his roll-up and I went to the bar to get another round in.

Walking back from the bar I was disappointed to find the table of pretty girls next to us had decamped and disappeared into the thronging London streets. Talk moved away from research-inspired drinking binges and into the generalities of life. Marcus and I described the antics of the night before to Luke, explaining the source of our hangover. Marcus drank slower that I did. I poured more ice into his cider and watched the sudden fizz as the new cubes splashed down. He rolled another and we watched them call the cricket for rain, after Australia pulled ahead of England. Marcus and Luke are big cricket fans; my interest casual at best. I turned around to check out the table of ladies and cursed, forgetting they’d left. Marcus placed his rollie on the table and Luke looked down on it with barely concealed contempt.

I looked at my watch and took another sip of beer. Time for the next pub. The British Library?

Not this time.

As we left, Luke clapped Marcus on the shoulder.

‘You’re going to be rolling a lot of cigarettes tonight.’

large books and reflections.

I find long books awkward and a tad daunting. It's the physicality of it: those awkward first pages and the imbalance between those pages read and those remaining. My index finger saving my place on page 15 of 1079. The feel of those pages unread is the daunting thing, the thinness of those first few a perennial disappointment. It would be far more comfortable to jump in around 450. Until that first chunk is read the book feels like a prop, a weighted block of pages merely there to provide an illusion of intellectual superiority.

It's a peculiar insecurity. One easily solved by voracious reading. Like the gap left by a missing wisdom tooth, I will dwell on it until I forget to, then rediscover it again with the next unread tome.

I'm on a train north again; returning from a fleeting London visit to see my parents and catch up with some friends. I never have enough time in London. I always leave with a drop or two of regret, mulling those things I didn't do and those folk I didn't have time to see. The feeling lingers until after Newcastle, usually dispelled by the Northumbrian coastline and the calm that comes with crossing the border back into Scotland.

There's a young couple at my table on the train, restricting my nesting. My giant tome stays shut and I'm currently debating a nap. It's the flat part of the trip - there's not much to see outside. The sun's finally creeping out from the neutral overcast above. I'm struggling to stay awake, but I always worry I'll snore when there are people at my table.

Oh well.