A day in the life of a mango


I have long had an affection for the mango.  I love the way the word sounds and I enjoy how the fruit tastes.  If anything defies the popular belief that something that tastes so sweet and delicious can’t possibly be good for you, it is the mango.

My admiration for the tasty tropical treat is such that I once considered attempting to update William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet by replacing the character Romeo with a mango.  When I think back on that now it seems like a really bold and unnecessary gesture, but at the time it felt like it had reason.  What love can be more forbidden than that of a girl for a juicy stone fruit?

The way I viewed it, introducing the mango as Juliet’s love interest would have saved a significant amount of heartache and death.  While Juliet’s family might have struggled to come to terms with the reasons why she would become involved in a romantic relationship with a mango, you would feel certain that they wouldn’t wish death upon the mango, or indeed the tree it fell from.

The underlying theme of love conquering all in the story would still exist, and would perhaps even be enhanced by the boundaries between humans and fruit being challenged by Juliet and the mango.  However, I really struggled to come up with believable dialogue for the mango and this new version remains unwritten.

I still find myself wondering if mangoes are capable of having feelings.  It would be all too easy to enjoy a fleeting moment of delight with a mango, consume it and forget all about it as you return to your daily routine, but I can’t help but believe they are sensitive deep beneath that soft peel.  After all, if you have mishandled them they will bruise just like any person, so why wouldn’t they experience emotion?


Whether the mango has a full range of emotions is open to question.  I have often tried making witty observations in their company and have never received so much as a chortle in response, which may suggest that the mango doesn’t have a sense of humour – although I have frequently experienced this in the presence of people, too.  Though it is difficult to imagine that something so bright and beautiful isn’t capable of some form of joy, particularly when it brings such pleasure to others.

There is nothing to suggest that mangoes can contemplate the intricacies of Brexit (but then who can?) or that they would have the ability to weigh up the pros and cons of making a selection on Netflix (again, who can?) but I am convinced that they could appreciate Keats or Whitman, I believe that they can suffer the disappointment of being discarded in favour of a more fashionable fruit like papaya and I would be astonished if the mango isn’t aware of a desire to be wanted, like the character in the updated version of Romeo and Juliet.

So the next time you see a mango, savour its sweet scent and enjoy touching its tender skin, but remember that sometimes mangoes have feelings too.  

The day I realised I had a crack in my sole


All good things are destined to come to an end at some time, be it potentially record-breaking winning streaks in the league or the sustainability of a fine pair of boots.  Unfortunately for me I experienced the expiration of both of those yesterday, and it would be difficult for me to deny that it wasn’t the latter which upset me the most.

In my time I have found that, much like a good woman (or a woman of any sort, really) a good pair of footwear is really difficult to keep a hold of.  I will often get a pretty solid couple of months out of a pair of shoes or boots – more than those aforementioned ladies – but soon find that they begin to fall apart.  And I have not yet been able to figure out where it is that I’m going wrong in my treatment of my footwear.

The pair of boots which I am currently wearing have been on my feet for less than two months.  Not continuously, of course; I take them off to shower, sleep and for at least five days a week when I am not casual JJ.  In that time I have grown fond of them.  They are a solid oak brown colour and can be worn with just about any outfit.  They have seen some sights in their short lifespan, notably a couple of visits out to Celtic Park, a wee venture to Manchester and one unexpectedly exhilarating train journey home.

But much like with every other piece of footwear I have owned in my life my relationship with these brown bad boys would become strained.  I was walking through the rain kissed streets of the east end of Glasgow when I felt an unexpected dampening of my socks.  I knew that I wasn’t engaging in any extreme sport and so, for once, this wasn’t sweat.  It could only be the puddles I was nonchalantly striding through – but how was that possible?


I sat through a frustrating 1-1 draw with Rangers at Celtic Park and forgot all about my leaky boots for a while, instead contemplating how a Partick Thistle fan might feel about the late equaliser Celtic conceded.  I reflected that it might be close to how a Celtic fan felt about the frustration at Firhill the previous day.

Following the disappointing outcome at the football I had approximately three hours to kill in The Raven, where I could sink pints of Caesar Augustus and shoegaze.  It was here that I realised that not one but both of my boots each have a crack etched all the way across the sole.  I’ve heard of a broken heart, but a broken sole??  (PS.  this possibly ties in with a joke I recently made at work, which was met with minimal fuss, when I asked if a pair of new sole traders might be in the business of selling shoes.)

I can’t figure out where it is that I’m going wrong with my footwear.  The casualty list is growing longer than the number of Rangers fouls which went without punishment yesterday and it seems impossible that it can’t be, in some slight way, my fault.  Are my feet too big?  Surely not if they are capable of crafting leather into my size.  Are my strides too powerful?  Am I treading on hazardous ground?  These are all questions I ask myself on a near-daily basis.

Those answers aren’t forthcoming as yet, but it is becoming clear that, a lot like with my current inability to stay asleep, I am possibly in need of lessons in shoe maintenance.  Perhaps some classes on developing a more fleet-footed gait will help protect my sole.  A tender soul is to be desired, after all.

Is there a right way to walk, or am I doing it correctly with my right-left-right-left etc. approach?

I am tentative when it comes to buying a new pair of boots or shoes.  I have a very short threshold of patience for shoe shopping, and it doesn’t help knowing that I am inevitably going to end up breaking the sole or poking a hole through them and I’ll be right back there sighing in that shoe shop.  Though as with the ending of a potentially record-breaking run of league wins, it seems like the best way of getting over the loss of a pair of boots is to jump feet first into the next ones.

Final scores:
JJ 0-1 Footwear
Celtic 1-1 Rangers

 

The day I understood the disappointment of being a Partick Thistle fan


When I decided to spend my free Saturday afternoon in Glasgow between the Laura Marling gig on Friday and the Celtic vs Rangers game on Sunday at Firhill I knew that it would provide a greatly different footballing experience to what I’m used to.  As a Celtic fan born in 1983 my relationship with disappointment is distant at best – confined to the nineties, really – if it even exists at all.  Some of us were disappointed at winning three trophies in two seasons under Ronny Deila, after all.

Venturing out into Glasgow’s west end for a game of football proved an altogether different affair to my regular Saturday afternoon.  When you are walking through the Gallowgate in the east end of the city to Celtic Park you often find yourself on guard for the jakies fuelled up on Buckfast who might be out for your wallet; but the most you have to be concerned with out in the west end is the guys in tweed jackets who might try to recommend that you listen to the latest unsigned Glasgow band on the indie scene.

Along Maryhill Road you are navigating through avenues of terraced houses with green lawns lined with cherry blossom trees, whilst on London Road you’d be struggling to find the horticulture amongst discarded cigarette butts and crushed cans of Tennents Special.  It is a striking contrast.

Firhill Stadium is cradled away at the end of a quiet residential area on Firhill Road.  The traffic moves freely, even after the match when three thousand Thistle fans are leaving the ground.  Prior to kick-off there is a small line gathered at the portable ticket office behind the Jackie Husband Stand.  It takes longer for me to get a pie at half-time at Celtic Park than it does for me to be in possession of a ticket for this game, despite a brief moment of panic in the booth when I ask if they take card payments.  “It will just be a minute, it takes the machine a while to wake up when it hasn’t been used.”

Having taken my seat in the main stand – those with white stickers indicate that they have been reserved for season ticket holders – I am struck by my first vision of Kingsley, the Partick Thistle mascot.  He does his best to entertain the young fans at the front of the stand, but I can only imagine how difficult a task that is when you look like the result of an intense one night stand between a Pokemon and Gollum.

The home support seemed on edge for much of this visit from bottom side Inverness Caledonian, despite being largely the better team.  Even at 1-0 there was a tension that I’m not used to feeling on the other side of the city, where it is usually only a matter of time until the second goal.  You could see the Thistle defence retreating deeper and deeper as the minutes wore on and the Jags around me could obviously sense the inevitable.  Even an appearance by Thistle legend Billy McGhie to conduct the half-time lottery drawing couldn’t alleviate the pressure.

“Who is he?”  Asked one older bloke.

“Billy McGhie.  He went on to manage Clydebank.  Owes my mate £100.  I should go down and get it off him.”

With virtually the last kick of the game – and certainly the last head – the inevitable occurred and Inverness snatched an undeserved equaliser which sucked the life right out of the stadium.  There was no anger, no howls of frustration, no anguished jeering as you might expect.  There was just silence, a solemn resignation.  Everyone raised from their seats in sync and left towards the exits, hardly a hushed word exchanged.  It reminded me a little of leaving mass, with the lack of eye contact and the unspoken agreement that we would all just get out of there as quickly as possible.

Then a voice spoke up.

“That was definitely the worst of them all.”

And that’s when I understood the frustration of being a Partick Thistle fan.  They’ve seen this all before, and they probably expect to see it again.  Yet they keep going back.  Similar to my attempts at flirtatious conversation with women in bars on a Friday night; there’s always the hope that all the pretty build-up play and stupid wordplay will, just once, not be dashed by a last-minute act of defensive folly.

Who knows, maybe one day it won’t.  Maybe one day those Partick Thistle fans will experience emotions other than disappointment and frustration.  As for me:  I’m going back to Celtic Park.

Final scores:
JJ 1-1 Frustration
Partick Thistle 1-1 Inverness Caledonian Thistle

The night I nearly missed the gig (aka Laura Marling @ O2 ABC, Glasgow)


My relationship with Laura Marling might be best described as being “one-sided”, in that only one of us considers there to be a relationship, or indeed even knows of the others existence.  I’m content for it to remain that way, though, because as it is there is also only one of us who knows that there is no chance of any romance blossoming between us.

I almost missed my date with Laura Marling last night.  In fact, there’s a part of me that wonders if I maybe did miss it and the rest of the evening took place in some fanciful dream.  I fell asleep almost as soon as I checked into my hotel room around 6.45; I had only intended on sitting down for ten minutes but the next thing I knew it was 8.57 and I had no idea how that was possible, aside from the obvious explanation that the minute hand kept ticking around the clock as normal.

I’ve been sleeping so strange at night of late, almost as though I have forgotten how to sleep.  Or at least how to stay asleep, because I keep being returned from slumber at various points through the night as the gerbil running the wheel in my mind refuses to take a comfort break.

It’s frustrating, because how to sleep is one of those things that nobody ever taught us to do, we learned it for ourselves.  Like crying and sneezing and procrastinating.  It just happened, and I’m not sure how to begin teaching myself to sleep properly again.  I went into a branch of Waterstones in Glasgow this morning hoping to find a book in the self-help section which might offer some guidance, but I couldn’t find anything on the subject and I felt unsure as to whether I could ask the shop assistant for help finding a book in the self-help section, so I left.

After a brief moment of startled panic and frustration at having missed the Laura Marling gig, I realised that my hotel was but a stone’s throw away from the ABC and that I could still make it if I wanted to.  I stumbled out of my room in a daze, nothing felt real.  I withdrew some cash from a nearby ATM, only to open my wallet and realise that I must have done this earlier.  As I climbed the stairs into the venue I could hear the unmistakable sound of live music and I assumed that I had maybe missed the first song or two of Laura’s set.  Fifty minutes later the show was finished and it transpired that it was Friday night and the ABC becomes a club at 11pm, so rather than missing two songs I had actually missed forty minutes.

The entire experience felt like a dream, a discombobulated product of my weary unconscious.  On stage Laura Marling was dressed in a heavenly white gown, the microphone stands were adorned with flowers and shrubbery and she had a band.  I have never seen Laura Marling play with a band; it was surreal.

I could tell from the way that she wasn’t looking at me that our romance wasn’t going to progress on this occasion, but her beautiful voice made up for that disappointment.  It is difficult to be sad when there are musicians like her around.  If this was a dream it’s the nicest one I’ve had in some time.

The day I counted how many people were in Celtic Park

There could rarely have been a more uncomfortable train journey than the three arduous hours I spent commuting to Glasgow on Saturday morning.  There is an argument to be made which says that I only have myself to blame for over-indulging in alcohol the night before and for fooling myself into thinking that I could make enough silly jokes to a woman that she would eventually decide it would be a brilliant idea to date me.

And perhaps it could be said that I should have moved away from my table seat when a gentleman sat opposite me and shortly thereafter a young woman sat in the seat next to him, leaving me unwilling to fall asleep and give them the likely spectacle of me drooling over myself.  Despite the fact that my leg room was heavily restricted and I was extremely tired and couldn’t allow myself to fall asleep, my conscience rendered me unable to move to another seat.  I couldn’t make things awkward for them by making them think that they had offended me in some deep way, to the extent that I had to immediately leave their company.  I would rather things be awkward for myself whilst I curse the two individuals in my internal monologue.

So I sat and listened to Ryan Adams for three hours and wallowed in a sleepy, hung over melancholy.

Everything moved in super slow motion on Saturday, like a tortoise on a skateboard with absolutely no clue how to operate it.  And nobody even knows how it got there in the first place, only that it did, which is how I felt when taking my cold, unforgiving seat at Celtic Park prior to kick-off.

Like the train ride before it and the subsequent sorry attempts at drinking a pint of beer, the football was a slow and ponderous affair.  Celtic are so dominant at the moment that it is only a matter of time before they score – the polar opposite of my romantic encounters – and you find yourself waiting impatiently for that magical moment to occur – exactly like my romantic interludes.

My tired mind struggled to focus on the action on the field and I often found myself distracted.  I could see that there were noticeably more seats empty around the ground than there have been most Saturday afternoons, and while I wouldn’t go as far as to call the official attendance figure of 54,685 an alternative fact, by my haphazard head count there were around five people at Celtic Park on Saturday.

Indeed, I would go as far as to say that there are usually five different types of people who go to the football.  There are folk like me and the guy sitting in front of me with the swept back grey hair and the red jeans who keep themselves to themselves and basically sit and watch the game as it unfolds.

Elsewhere in the ground there are supporters who turn up to sing and create an atmosphere, seemingly without paying much attention to what’s happening on the field.  There was the chap behind me on Saturday who would intermittently startle me out of my daze with his crude attempts at signing, which mostly amounted to howling three or four words before giving up.  He sounded like he was under water.

Spectator group number four would be those who typically only spend approximately 60 minutes at the actual game.  They arrive 5-10 minutes after it has kicked off, leave five minutes before half-time to get into the line at the food stalls and then leave the stadium to beat the traffic as soon as the clock lands on 80 minutes.  I’d estimate that this may be the largest group.

The vocal minority is the small band of people who somehow believe that everything they shout can have an impact on the match.  Whether it is a stinging criticism of a player’s inability to “get stuck in” or a garbled cry in support of the IRA, every solo holler is delivered as though it has the inspirational quality of a John F. Kennedy speech.

Eventually that inevitable magical moment came courtesy of Moussa Dembele and the five people in the stadium could go home happy.  I put on some more Ryan Adams and walked back into the city centre with the mobility of an uncertain raindrop on a window pane.

Final scores:
JJ 0-1 The slow and painful passing of a Saturday afternoon
Celtic 2-0 Hamilton

 

The day after I met the German

It has been a fair while since I last woke up to find that I wasn’t alone in bed.  My ‘little black book’ is best described as “dusty” whereas most other modern folk have updated to the e-book.  But when my eyes struggled to prise themselves open at around 8am on this particular Saturday I could sense another presence in the bed next to me.  My recollection of the events of the previous night were more murky than a ScotRail coffee, but there was an undeniable feeling of satisfaction in my bed.

Quite aware that I had a train to catch and was already pressed for time I knew that I couldn’t lay there for long and reflect on the glory of my achievement.  So I forced myself into action and I rolled over to confront the half-eaten slice of pepperoni pizza resting on top of the duvet beside me.  Seemingly Friday wasn’t quite the pleasurable experience I had imagined it was:  why couldn’t I finish that slice of pizza?

These Saturday trips to the football are difficult enough without questions lingering from Friday night.  I had a lot of questions though, and not all of them were “how did I end up in bed with a slice of pepperoni pizza when my Tinder profile clearly states that I don’t date cold meats anymore?”

I suppose that the primary questions on my mind related to the 70-year-old German gentleman I was talking to in Aulay’s Bar after five o’clock.  That encounter returned to me often through the day, particularly during a cold second-half at Celtic Park in which the flicks and tricks of Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele couldn’t add to the two goals Celtic had scored in the first period of play.

I can’t remember why the German man started a conversation with me – how could I? – but I do recall him being rather agitated about the state pension and the fact he wasn’t receiving it despite having being sent letters informing him that he would.  He perhaps thought that with my occupation I might be able to offer him some advice, but there were two reasons I couldn’t:  1)  I was drinking beer; 2)  Nobody understands pensions.

This guy seemed like he had lived quite the life as a master baker (as opposed to my life a consonant away) in countries like Canada, Israel and Australia, enjoying the music of Handel and Mozart and visiting the Isle of Wight festival from Germany several times during its heyday in the seventies.  And it was this latter note which was most impressed upon my mind.  For as interesting as it was hearing a first-hand account of Jimi Hendrix almost burning the stage down, Pink Floyd stepping in to replace him and the experience of seeing The Who and Bob Dylan, there was one phrase the German used regarding his time at the Isle of Wight Festival which reverberated around my mind like a Roger Daltrey riff.

“We smoked joints the size of trumpets.”

He repeated it often.  Joints the size of trumpets.  I’ve since been trying to picture this musical spliff and keep questioning why a trumpet?  How about a joint the size of a clarinet or an oboe?  Is a joint the size of a saxophone out of the question?  I can’t help but turn to thinking of a trumpet the size of a joint.  One suspects that wouldn’t be so easy to play.

And how much weed does it take to make a joint the size of a trumpet anyway?

With every break in play, stray pass along the threadbare green surface or squandered goalscoring opportunity my thoughts would return to this wild German and his group of friends roaming the Isle of Wight with their comically sized joints in a hedonistic haze of seventies exuberance.  This was worse than a hangover.  At least with a hangover a couple of pints will make you forget about it, but nothing could take my mind off Frank’s crazy assertions about the size of his joints.

Who knows if I will ever again meet Frank and have the questions which plagued me answered.  I may never learn more about this brass orchestra of narcotics.  Some questions are just destined to remain unanswered, however.  Like how Ryan Bowman avoided a red card for his high challenge on Kieran Tierney, or why I ended up in bed with a slice of pepperoni pizza.

Final scores:
JJ 0-1 pepperoni pizza
Celtic 2-0 Motherwell

A night in the church (aka Conor Oberst @ Albert Hall, Manchester)

Manchester has a great history of producing legendary musical acts, from The Smiths to Oasis and Joy Division to James and New Order.  The list isn’t endless, but it is substantial.  So it seemed only fitting that I should see one of my personal Gods of emotionally tinged sad music, Conor Oberst, at a converted church in this city.

The Albert Hall was originally built as the Methodist Central Hall in 1908 and was designed with Baroque and Gothic elements.  Its Chapel Hall was unused from 1969 until its renovation as a concert venue in 2012-13.  That’s more or less all Wikipedia tells us about the building, which is a quite beautiful and atmospheric venue, ideal for a gig like this.

Getting there was somewhat less beautiful, however.  Ordinarily any day which begins with your weak and weary eyes taking in the surroundings of the easyhotel in Glasgow can surely only get better, but the cold which made the football barely tolerable the night before was in no mood to let me cling to that hope.  A three-hour train journey to Manchester seemed as palatable to me as the beef and ale pie I would later attempt to consume at a Wetherspoons on Oxford Street.

As I sat in my seat on the train awaiting its departure and listening to my playlist of sad emo songs by Conor Oberst in an attempt to brighten my outlook, a large older gentleman hobbled slowly towards the seats at the opposite side of the table from me.  He spilled into both of them in the manner I’d imagine a bowl of jelly might and it became clear that he had purchased two tickets for them.  I observed him as he emptied his bag of shortbread and chocolate and his wallet and a diary and various other items, before proceeding to tear up several sheets from his sticky pad and attach the pieces to his belongings.  It was a curious thing to witness, and sadly the most interesting sight of the entire journey.

Things would get better, eventually, with a beer.  Don’t they always?  Fortunately there is a BrewDog bar adjacent to the Albert Hall where I could enjoy pints of Dead Pony Club in the company of several other flannel clad fans of misery.  On the downside I was only capable of drinking three beers, which was due to either the man flu sweeping my body or the fear of missing the 7.19 train back to Glasgow the next morning.  Whatever it was, this was the most sober gig I’ve been to in some time.

There is something inherent about a church, I feel, that makes a person cough.  That was one facet of my cold that was missing, right up until I entered the Albert Hall.  Then I found myself clearing my throat and coughing incessantly, and I wasn’t alone.  The difficult part was trying to find an appropriate point during these poignant acoustic songs at which to let them out.  It felt like being nine-years-old again and at mass on a Sunday morning trying to stifle a cough – usually brought on by the incense – because the priest was still delivering his important reading,

This venue still looks much like a place of religious gathering, with its stained glass windows and beautiful terracotta decor, the organ resplendent at the back of what would once have been the altar and is now a stage.  Its acoustics capture wonderfully the emotion in Conor Oberst’s voice; the sharp sorrow of his harmonica.  The show leans heavily on his most recent release, Ruminations, which was recorded over three days in New York City with little more than the equipment seen on stage last night, making this feel as though we were being brought right into the album.  You could almost taste the liquor on Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out, a song about the NYC bar “that saved my life.”

Uncanny was preceded by an apology for America and “the orange rat” and an impassioned plea for human beings to stick together.  We’re probably going to hear a lot more of this at gigs over the next four years, or until Trump is impeached, whichever comes first.

The triumvirate of Bright Eyes songs that closed out the night were the undoubted highlight, with Phoebe Bridges almost stealing the show on Lua; her voice was flawless and haunting.  At The Bottom of Everything was a lively, foot-stomping finale, with its final line stating that “I’m happy just because I found that I am truly no-one” seeming somehow fitting.