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This report is taken from PN Review 188, Volume 35 Number 6, July - August 2009.Right Here?
Very pleasant all the same, sitting in this ultra-modern bar slightly before noon. I’ve never been here before - (I’m not much of a one for pubs in general) - even though it’s bang in the middle of possibly the most famous street in Glasgow. (Not that that amounts to so very much either - compared, say, to Princes Street, or for that matter Union Street in Aberdeen.) But, after an early morning dental appointment, we investigated a few charity shops, and soon enough, at her suggestion, we came in here for a break and a chance to inspect our latest impulsive and far from deluxe acquisitions.
After a while, as I sit sipping a cold drink and gazing out the huge window at the bright, summery street, it crosses my mind that there is something confusingly familiar about the novel set-up we have just sauntered into. Of course, the street itself is well-known to us. I’ve lived hereabouts all my life (more or less), largely waiting with infinite impatience for fame to strike without warning. By now, I must have walked past this particular point many hundreds of times, whether east-bound or west-bound, whether in joy, despair or catatonia - and, though the interior of the bar is another recent refurbishment (long ago, there was a small circus on this very spot, was there not?), the exterior has looked like this for well over a century.
And yet - that fine high sunlit red sandstone façade directly opposite us! Offices, by the look of them. The eyes rarely linger on such technicalities as one strides purposefully onwards. Lawyers; accountants - and some even more mysterious places of resort. What exactly is going on up there right now, being done by whom, to whom, and why? (And not just on this particular perfect noon either. No. Every previous day for generations, rain or (more rain or) shine. Or, if not - as an old maths teacher of mine was forever asking - then why not?)
Once - well over forty years ago - (can I too really now be qualified to make such utterly ludicrous remarks?) - yes: once, when I was, what? 12? 13? less? more? - the somewhat distant school I was attending sent off classloads of its finest specimens to a mid-afternoon concert of classical music in the Saint Andrews Halls nearby. A unique occasion, as I recall. Certainly, it came as a complete surprise to me. At no time previous to our arrival did I realise where we were going - on buses which we schoolchildren (gloriously) had the run of all to ourselves! (I don’t think I noticed terribly much during my entire youth.) The music, appreciated at the time, is likewise a total blank. However, I do remember that, when the concert was over, we (or perhaps only the recognised locals among us?) were simply released onto the public street and invited to find our own way back to our scattered families unaided. (Best of luck, lads!)
Though I somehow knew I couldn’t be too hopelessly adrift, I had no idea where we more specifically were. (A dozen blocks away - indeed, much less than that - is a different continent in childhood.) But eventually the group of four or five boys I was evidently attached to came strolling along the nearest side-street to this present corner site. In an exaltation of relief and joyful incredulity - I recognised as familiar, as quite ridiculously familiar, the same red sandstone façade which stands right there opposite us today, modestly refusing to trade in the slightest on any past acquaintance.
I mention this to her - briefly, as I can see it’s hardly the most bedazzling information one is ever going to receive. But, after all, on that same afternoon she will have been yet another schoolchild; younger, far better-looking, and probably on the other side of the river to boot. It must surely have something to do with her, however tangential. Even so, not long afterwards, whether bedazzled or not, another vital pit-stop in the Ladies beckons, and off she duly disappears.
This, I know from long experience, could leave me with a fair bit of free time on my hands. Ever the apprentice Stoic, I dig out a couple of paperbacks bought dirt-cheap less than an hour before at a nearby thrift shop. An informal pairing of novels by the Russian-French writer, Andreï Makine. They have apparently been disposed of quite unread - a highly welcome bargain. Flicking through them, I notice to my amazement that both these presumably casual discards appear to be signed by the author himself! (On the title pages. First: En toute sympathie, A. Makine. Second, in an identical thin blue ball-point: Avec mon amitié, A Makine - the ‘amitié’ admittedly being not entirely certain.)
I must confess I don’t quite understand this. Let’s see. You get the famous author to sign his books, and you then dispose of them in a charity shop? How long did that take? Has he too been at work hereabouts recently, or what? And yet I dare say there are a million ways in which such an eventuality could plausibly come about. (And only one way, perhaps even a less plausible one, in which it unquestionably did.)
This report is taken from PN Review 188, Volume 35 Number 6, July - August 2009.