Scottish Water Safely Burns

A plush bar on an expensive shopping street, but we have a twenty percent discount on alcoholic drinks, because one of our party used to work here. Whisky, I decide, selecting a brand with a long name that reminds me of fun in the distant past.

“Good choice, Sir!”

Sir? The feudal language was abolished later here in Scotland, where tenants still half-belonged to their landlords until a few years ago. Reforming the system for ‘generation rent’, we suppose, will improve our lives. The English and Scottish approach to occupying a flat, sadly, might continue to diverge, fracture, discriminating forever more between the rich and the poor. Yes, Sir, a good choice… for now.

Finishing the blessed golden scotch sooner than my friends reach the bottom of their cocktail glasses, my eyes cast around for hydration and settle on a plastic bottle. It belongs to a man, sitting at my left hand side, hailing from the North East of England, a new face in these parts and an occasional supporter of the Tory administration.

Without a second thought, my hand slides the water closer and my mouth enjoys the free and easy liquid property of H-2-O, oh so sustaining to own.

Retrospective psychoanalysis condemns the motivation. I did not want to waste the server’s time, requesting ‘Council juice’ from the tap behind the bar. I did not want to interrupt the delicate stream of conversation, requesting permission. We are supposed to be friends. Do I need to ask for this simple and necessary fluid? Is it not mine as much as his?

I had not purchased it. Neither had he, as it turns out. It had come free with a McDonalds meal.

Still, when he notices that I’ve taken what was placed roughly equidistant between us, the response is angry.

“Did you break the seal and hear it click?”

Nine words, so neatly phrased, which I cannot forget. Did I break the seal? Did I hear the plastic circle snap, crackle and pop? The poet Auden, contemplating the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, used the same language. Did Christ really ‘break the seal’ and rise again?

“We cannot say, but conscious unbelievers feel… quite sure of Judgement Day.”

Confessional style would require me to admit, I used to steal sips of whisky from the cabinet in the kitchen. So the full force of the authoritarian dismay of my Conservative friend is not so much about him and the way he thinks. It is my weakness, this inclination to be bored by the concept of property. Still, the old anarchist dictum about theft fizzes through our chains of supply and demand, the structures for the distribution of water and other pleasures. Does a Scot in Edinburgh control the pipes any more or less than an English ‘immigrant’ from a northern village appropriates the resources of the nation?

We cannot say, but… after the drinking there will have to be, well, a recollection, a cleaning up of the loose ends of our disagreements.