Fact and fiction in the Arlington Bar, Glasgow

In The Book of Man, I describe the Arlington as “a quiet old people’s pub in the West End.”

I wrote most of that book in 1993. Stopping by the Arlington on a rainy night 24 years later, I found a different place. Instead of a bar dense with tables, and elderly people sitting at them, I found a bar both airy and cozy, and I don’t think anyone was over 35 except for me.

But was it ever the bar I remember, the bar I described in the novel? (And who described it — me, or the fictitious protagonist?) When I wrote it, I was living in Edinburgh and hadn’t been to the Arlington in a couple years…and, remembering it the way I described it, I was overlooking the fact that my time spent there had been in the company of friends who, like me, were in their mid-20s.

Even our most accurate personal histories are autobiographical fictions. We don’t revisit our histories on returning to their settings — we bring our histories with us.

The bar now bears little resemblance to the one in the book…and I bear even less resemblance to the man who wrote that book.