above the stove

Habits die hard. Bagel, the world's greatest cat, loves to sit on the hood of the Aga. It is her winter station. She lords over her domain from there, looking bored as we mill about, fixing a snack, flipping the kettle on or cooking dinner. Sometimes Bagel's not bothered by our antics and just sleeps. In her younger days, it was a two-step process. She leapt to the kitchen counter and then leapt from the kitchen counter to the hood and would stay for hours, drifting in and out of sleep, a look of serene content on her whiskered face. Now, age has caught up with her and she needs a hand. She gets to the counter without issue, but the hood is now that leap too far. Now she jumps from the counter to my shoulder and then to hood.

Friday afternoon found me in a foul mood for no particular reason. I sat down to The Simpsons, hoping for a 23 minute respite from grumpiness. My phone rang at the end of the opening credits and I cursed. The number was a mystery. The voice on the other end was not. I needed to go to St Andrews. An old friend had returned and was playing a gig. There were several pints of beer that needed drunk and quite a lot of cheering to be done, was I up for it?

So I jumped in Fifi (I have named my car Fifi - she's French), and shot north with one good omen after another. Fun Lovin' Criminals' Scooby Snacks burst from the radio just after getting onto the A92 from the M90. I bobbed up and down in the driver's seat singing along with Huey and the gang, reveling in my passenger-free environment. Someday I'll be driving and a great song will come on and I'll lose myself to it and notice far too late that there's someone sitting next to me.

My love/hate relationship with St Andrews continues apace. Students still wander into the street, seemingly invulnerable to oncoming traffic. But dear friends still reside there, and the pubs are warm, occasionally serve good beer, and boast the same comfort as an old t-shirt or tatty jumper.

Friday evening was a swirl of laughter, Guinness, sherry and whisky. With little or no cajoling, fuelled by pints and nostalgia, I joined my mates behind the microphone and belted out If I Had $1,000,000. Catching up was unnecessary. Everyone still read from the same page. It might have been 2004 or 2005 again, not the verge of 2007.

The hangover Saturday morning started off with the clinging remnants of drunkenness. Bacon rolls and an angry disgraced former First Minister and I loitered around the bottle shop for lack of anything better to do. I was in no state to drive back to Linlithgow. The shop was heaving. People sought wine advice and I dispensed, reeling unbalanced, voice hoarse, body disheveled, eyes glazed, the ideal matches for food, the best vintages and the perfect gifts - wines that I knew and loved, dismissing rubbish or those simply not good enough. Bordeaux, Burgundy and Port flew off the shelves and from the stacks. We opened a bottle of Nuits St George and I sniffed and sipped, it cut through the paste of the night before and I felt within a comfort zone I'd missed for over a year. Some lady arrived host a champagne tasting and I decided to stick around for another evening. I mentioned my heady sense of well-being to a friend and he told me to get out while I could. The hangover overcame the remains of drunkenness and after lunch I retreated from the shop for coffee and chat.

Bagel's spot above the stove is still hers, she just needs a hand to get there. We've thought of building her a cat ladder.

I don't need a ladder to get back to St Andrews, just a full tank of petrol. It's so easy, too easy, to slip back in, to forget the reasons I left, to avoid my life now by only remembering the good and the great of my life then. But then, it was only a weekend, a brilliant one at that, and there's no harm in a weekend.

Is there?