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I spent the evening drinking in the Earl of Marchmont with some workers from the agency. There are days when the first sip of whisky seems like a rowdy welcome from a room of old friends. As there is presently no central heating in my apartment, I have taken to drinking whisky hot, with a blob of honey. It seems a general failure of our civilisation that few pubs will serve whisky in this fashion.

We had collected to drink the health of an agency worker who was leaving Edinburgh to spend several months in Portland, Oregon. Carelessly, I had never spoken with this agency worker, other than to occasionally correct how she operated an industrial dishwasher or how she mopped a floor (“horizontally, not vertically my dear”). I knew that her name was Magda, but aside from this I had not bothered to learn anything further about her. I instinctively shirk those tiresome exchanges through which one always labours when first meeting somebody. One ends up reciting a sort of blurb about origins and ambitions – the synopsis of one’s existence, which anybody with a sense of freedom will object to being reduced. There is so much more to somebody than just a life, which is often the least remarkable aspect of one’s being. Moreover, the more people who one meets, the more one senses that personality and individuality are feeble forces. One often recognises qualities, mannerisms, and synopses – or even entire personalities – which one has encountered previously in others. Perhaps the new can never challenge and surprise – because they are merely the old with different arrangements of backgrounds and careers – and humanity sometimes seems like an overworked genre of literature, which has been unconsciously and endlessly adapted, moderated, reprocessed, recycled, and pastiched.

But this evening I finally ended up speaking with Magda for a good forty minutes. She turned out to be very pleasant and clever, and I wished that I had known her through all the months of our acquaintance. She promised to email from Oregon.

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