Myself, Tori, and several of her work friends today made up a small, chance luncheon party. The venue was a fish restaurant in Stockbridge. I became irritated by how Tori’s friends were studying the menu with wondering eyes, as if they were children who had never sat down in a restaurant before and looked at the card. After a while, they seemed to be speculatively devouring the entire menu and I was hit by a sudden, sharp annoyance at how greedy this appeared. “For heaven’s sake,” I growled, “need we take so long?”
Nobody answered. Tori’s eyes flickered around the table in alarm. “We must have a combined age of over two hundred,” I continued. “We surely know by now that there is no novelty left anywhere in restaurants – they are all exactly the same – all of these items [I flung a hand impetuously across the menu] are now identically available in every pub on every street corner. Everywhere!”
A waitress promptly appeared and everybody agreed to order. Three of us went for the haddock, one for the quorn scampi, and one for the paella. It was still faintly like a competition. Who would win?
Tori won with the quorn scampi, which came in a surprisingly ample portion. Our haddocks looked boring; the paella was colourless and shrunken. Glancing at Tori’s prize-winner, we all bristled enviously.
Tori’s friends began to complain about Brexit. They were chuckling that the prime minister was a clown and her government clueless. It was a fiasco and the country was an international embarrassment. Didn’t Theresa May know that you had to do this during a top-table negotiation, and behave like that when the time required it? Since Brexit, and the fall off in immigrant labour, each of Tori’s friends had been either promoted or they had obtained more highly paid jobs, but I thought better of mentioning this. They each attributed their success to their own unique CVs and not, naturally, to Brexit.
Eventually they were too stupefied from eating to utter anything other than commonplaces. When I suggested another bottle of wine, they looked panicked. No, they had to come down and surrender this small hillock of happy freedom and resume the day’s itinerary. I was not working today, however, and Tori had been on a half day. “Shall we go to the cinema?” I asked her. “I’d like to see this Veselaya Kuritsa.”
Tori looked askance at me but she did not shoot down the possibility. Maybe it’s a boys’ film, I thought, one of these films that only men can connect with and that all women react to with a strange absence of emotion. If we went now, we would be finished by five, I reasoned with her perkily. And if it did not suit her, she could doze. She nodded at the dozing.
The film was on soonest at the Cameo, this beautiful retro cinema on the Lothian Road. Outside, the cinema is shabby and friendly-looking and it sports a marquee sign like the peak of a baseball cap. Within, it is glamorously tarted up with Grecian plaster pillars and seats of red velvet. Tori and I both ordered gins and tonics at the bar. At this time of day, the audience was thin, with two or three spaces between each occupied seat.
I am sure that you must have heard of Veselaya Kuritsa by now. This film is the most conspicuous manifestation of President Putin’s attempts to troll the West and wind up our policymakers. It is barely a year since Putin had announced that the Russian state was commissioning a new and far more accurate version of Jurassic Park. The original film, he had scoffed, was anatomically erroneous and fake news. The Russians would get Jurassic Park right where, for all of its supposed sophistication, Hollywood had botched it.
Half an hour into Veselaya Kuritsa and we could see that the film looked ludicrous, but also somehow sarcastically ludicrous. One character was being attacked by velociraptors that largely resembled spirited pheasants. They scarcely came up to the character’s knees and they were gaily adorned with ornate gold and red plumage.
Tori was bemused. “I prefer these velociraptors, I believe. They are bonny wee things.”
“They still have a nasty bite,” I observed. The victim was not quite getting eaten but a velociraptor was nonetheless wrapped murderously around his calf. These little fighting dinosaurs were dainty but they nevertheless came with the frantic, wriggling ferocity of ferrets.
Soon a tyrannosaurus rex had lumbered on like a gigantic dazed hen, covered in fluffy down. “My goodness,” Tori gasped, “this is a bit thick.” A man dressed like Jeff Goldblum in a black leather jacket and sunglasses had been swallowed by the dinosaur. In the process, both of his legs had been severed above the knee. I had long since noticed that the characters in this story who were scheduled to die each bore some vengeful resemblance to a star from Spielberg’s original movie.
Slithering down inside the creature, his face clenched fearsomely in agony, the man had activated the torch on his mobile phone, so that the moment was fully lit up as the final roll of peristalsis dunked him into the stomach acids. We watched him writhe and disintegrate hellishly within the slime. After a clear comedic pause, his severed legs, obviously snuffled up outside, plopped in after him.
I laughed merrily. “Well, they say that it is anatomically correct.”
“Children aren’t going to be allowed to watch this,” Tori pointed out. “The original had brainwashed children – you know, into associating America with science and progress.”
“Maybe children in Russia are given greater leeway.”
In the film, a brave young man, with a very pink face and dressed in Russian folk costume, was being surrounded by clamouring feathered stegosauruses that quacked like ducks. He took a shot of vodka and then head-butted the first to approach him. In the cinema, nobody cheered.
Later, we emerged from the Cameo with that strange airy energy that you always get after watching a film. You have not finished a movie until you have mastered it, but we had no desire to mooch about discussing the details of this one. Normally, we would have gone straight to the Hanging Bat “beer café” but we both now wanted to stretch our legs and pierce somewhat deeper into Edinburgh’s core. We got as far as Doctors, this pub at the top of the Meadows.
Inside the pub, we happened upon my friend Trudy, who I had temped alongside for several months at Gogarburn. She adheres to a raw food diet and she still looked like a wizened thirteen-year-old boy. She had dyed her hair pea green and this made me realise that I could not recall its previous colour. For me, her colours are too fleeting to ever stick.
Tori gets on with Trudy and she takes her as she finds her. I have never heard her express reluctance about Trudy’s spindly, alarmingly underpowered appearance. This is perhaps because Tori is a vegan, or near to being one, and she is hiding it from me. I have not seen her eat meat since before Christmas. If her secret ever comes out and we openly argue about it, she knows that Trudy will be enlisted as evidence of the creeping insanity of any kind of diet.
Trudy told us a remarkable story about online dating. On one of these apps that people have, a man in her neighbourhood had been bombarding her with lewd comments and photographs of his erect penis. She had not encouraged him in this but he was only a couple of blocks away and, one evening, in an interval of weakness, she had sent him a single word: “ok.” He had replied firstly with his address, and secondly with a rather lengthy explanatory message.
He wanted it to be quick and he wanted to be anonymous. He did not indicate why, but he did not want her to ever see his face or hear his voice. When Trudy arrived, to find the door of the apartment hanging wide open, she followed the instructions provided and walked along a corridor and around into the master bedroom. Here, the man was lying on his bed, naked aside from a latex bondage hood. He sat up and blinked politely at her in greeting.
During the sex, whenever he wanted to make a correction to what they were doing, his fingers would tap out a rapid message on a tablet on his bedside table. This was wired up to a stereo system and a voice would duly issue from overhead speakers. He had evidently not given much thought to coordinating the voice with the mood, for Trudy was regaled with the sort of automated female vocals that you hear on a Tesco checkout machine. “Now suck me” and “do it doggy” were recited with that starched, vaguely schoolmarmish pronunciation. Trudy was constantly having to suppress her giggles.
After leaving the apartment, exhilarated and yet stiffly sore in various places, Trudy was depressed. “It was amazing – it was so good – but I have no idea who he was. I might as well have been having sex with a Tesco machine. He was so tender though – so rough and tender at the same time. It might be the best sex that I’ve ever had. But I can’t understand it. I was in a relationship for over eight years, but why go through all that if, with this featureless essence, it can be so good?”
I wanted a cigarette and so I left Trudy puzzling and Tori consoling her. Outside, it was still light and I crossed the road to walk about in the Meadows whilst I smoked. I thought about what type of man would hanker after Trudy and whether it was really healthy to want to team up with such a frail, puny body. I guessed that he was a more imaginative man than I was. There was admittedly something sensual about Trudy that might enhance her boyishness. I had never sounded her out sexually.
I paused in front of a display of wooden water pipes. I read in the dim light that these had been unearthed during recent building work at George Square. They were made from hollow elm trunks and they had been originally laid in 1756 to carry fresh water the three or so miles from the Comiston Springs to the Royal Mile. If an elm trunk was over sixty feet tall, I calculated, they would need… well, I concluded that they would need to bury a small forest to link up the spring with the taps. The pipes looked like hideous tubers, or as though Edinburgh was somehow fixed in place by enormous tree roots and some sections had been safely cut loose.
My attention was caught by a sparrow that was dipping about on the roots. They always look tremendously bossy and conceited, I thought. I suddenly recalled the feathered monsters in the Russian movie. How curious that these sparrows are so lively and buoyant, whilst being simultaneously in the extreme dotage of their species.
In their youth, they had ruled the Earth and swept around with their gigantic throbbing bodies. Their lovemaking had shaken jungles; their feasts had put away hills of flesh; their energy, as their mighty jaws had veered fantastically down on their prey, was unimaginable. And now they were reduced to these tiny bobbing pouches, whose kingdoms were at best hedgerows and who seemed lost in the branches of any small tree.
I at once thought of Marcin, wherever he is presently. In his youth he had stepped as boldly and contemptuously as a god over the world’s floor. Had he since shrunken to the equivalent of a sparrow?
We humans are no doubt currently in the youth of our race. In sixty-five million years, will we be miniature furred creatures, scurrying around parks, whilst those who rule the planet stroll by without giving us a second glance?
[Previously on Tychy: “Life and Death.”]