I was walking with my wife, Polly, on the Meadows this morning when we met Pablo. He was with his girlfriend, Blanca, who cannot speak very much English. Pablo is a fascist – a member of Frente Nacional – and it is always amusing to hear him talk about politics.
Pablo surveyed the Meadows, which was full of students milling about, and he grinned fiendishly. “This country is going to the dogs. It will soon be as bad as Spain, which is now worse than Africa. The government has no authority, nobody respects it. And there are immigrants everywhere! They just come and go as they please, and the government is helpless, like a teenaged mum with wild children.”
Pablo and I are, of course, both immigrants. I have never been able to quite put this to him, sensing that his ideology is particularly vulnerable on this point. Unable to reconcile his position as an immigrant with his own fascism, Pablo would probably go crazy and start tearing out his hair. Or perhaps the supreme, surreal achievement of Pablo’s thinking is indestructible and can survive any encounter with reason.
Pablo’s girlfriend, Blanca, was getting restless, and she moaned at him to continue.
“This one is terrible,” Pablo complained. “Awful! She has no respect. If those weasels hadn’t made it illegal, I would chop off her head with an axe.”
“But Pablo!” I laughed. “Who would look after you? And clean your flat?”
“I can do those things myself and do them a lot better. I can cook and clean better than this woman. The women these days are not women. They are like boys – dirty, smelly boys – they swear and play with themselves like boys. They should not be allowed to call themselves women. It’s a travesty!”
I had a nightmare in which I was unable to get a drink in Edinburgh…
I first went to Scotmid and asked for a bottle of whisky. The woman at the tills wanted to see my I.D.
“I’m thirty-five,” I snorted. Despite myself, I was suddenly flushed with fury and instinctively squaring up.
The woman smiled sadly. “I’m sorry sir, but we do need to check. It’s annoying, I know…”
I fished about in my wallet and eventually retrieved my driving license. The woman looked at it and then handed it back. Yet the transaction did not continue. I stared in amazement as the woman began to deliver a little formal speech.
“I’m sorry sir…” she gazed into my eyes, still with that sad, wistful smile. “But I just don’t feel that I can sell you alcohol. I’m sorry – and please don’t be offended – but I don’t believe that you’re ready for the responsibility.”
“But… but… I don’t understand…”
“It’s an issue for my conscience. I couldn’t sleep at night if I knew that I had allowed you to have access to alcohol.”
“I want to see the manager!” I raged, but the woman’s sad smile was floating before me, filling up the whole shop like an opening parachute, and the shelves of spirits were going out like tides.
I marched to Tesco and demanded a bottle of whisky from the girl on the tills. But she also wanted to see my I.D. Exasperated, I handed over my driving license. My whole body burned with the indignity of having to provide written evidence that I was not a child. This humiliation is equivalent to the government insisting that you do a silly little dance before you can get a drink. Yet the Tesco cashier was frowning. For as her gaze had fallen on my driving license, it had transformed into the jack of spades.
She handed back the playing card. “I’m afraid that this is not acceptable I.D. sir.”
“But I’m thirty-five! I’m certainly at least fifteen years older than yourself,” I added angrily.
“I’m sorry sir.” The Tesco cashier pulled out a large device which looked like a library stamp, and with a vicious swipe, she stamped CHILD on my forehead. I was shrieking and struggling frantically to wipe away the word. My hands were caked with ink and ink was running down my face.
I ran over to the Peartree and ordered a glass of whisky. The barman also demanded to see my I.D. I was aggravated by the fact that all of the drinkers sitting at the bar seemed to be teenagers. I did not know whether to address the barman imperiously, as if he was a servant, or with humility, as if he was a doctor. I finally tried to shrug casually, and I found that my voice was very small and choked up.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t seem to have any with me.”
The barman stared at me with naked hostility. “Then I’m afraid that you’ll have to leave the premises.”
I was remonstrating with the barman, begging him for a drink. All of the teenagers at the bar were cheering and whooping. I suddenly found that I was sliding out of the pub and into the beer garden. Behind the bar, the barman was pulling at levers and there was the snarl of grinding gears. The Peartree stood up on robotic chicken legs and began to lurch off down the street.
I was running after the pub. “Come back! I just want a drink! Just a small drop of whisky!”
The teenagers were screaming. “Faster! Faster” He’s catching up!”
The barman was now at the helm of the pub in an admiral’s tricorn, steering furiously. The pub had ducked nimbly around George Square and it was now lurching off across the Meadows. I finally gave up and watched it run away.
[This is a perennial theme. Ed.]