A drunk man befriended me yesterday as I was taking in the Landscape Photographer of the Year Exhibition at Waverley Station. I was examining a close up of frost on fallen leaves, moss and tufts of grasses, taken by a talented soul from Hebden Bridge with a good camera and a better eye. Displayed next to it was pastoral shot of undulating hills and stonewalls. To my gaze, it could almost have been the West of Ireland, but it looked too fertile. The Yorkshire Dales, the note beside it told me. A shot of a deserted skatepark in Mussleburgh at night with a low wash of the Northern Lights in the background held me transfixed for the longest time, until I realised I had a companion. You know when someone is standing that little bit too close? He leaned towards me to speak. “Why would you sit and look at a screen telling you what time trains are coming and going when you could look at these?” was his introduction. He made a sweeping gesture, that of a master conjurer disappearing a rabbit, theatrically casting his arm across those seated in the waiting area. I looked at them. Sure enough, rows of Lowry stick people all dressed in grey black were staring blankly at the screen, ignoring this collection of astonishing photographs under their noses. “Don’t know,” I said to him, “Maybe they haven’t noticed it’s here.” We agreed that ‘Fire Within’, a shot of an ominous storm off the East Sussex coast, was Turner-esque. We also agreed that the one entitled ‘Mallaig to Glasgow Sprinter’ might be our favourite. It showed a two-carriage train, blurred slightly giving the impression of some speed but not too much haste, its reflection caught in the still waters of Loch Eilt. “I’ve been there,” he whispered delightedly, leaning closer and giving me a fresh blast of strong liquor, “Highlands, best place on earth.” He was a young man, in his thirties, smart and hair slicked into place, and he was quite, quite drunk at 11.30 in the morning. “Well, I’ve been there,” I countered, beginning a dangerous game of one-upmanship with the drunkard, pointing to the Ailsa Craig at sunset. Some trick of the light had softened the edges of the island so that it looked like a beach ball that had been blown out to sea. I vaguely wondered where he was going to or coming from and I dearly hoped his state was an unusual one for him to be in. For the three or four minutes we shared, he was easy company, but by the time he began to stray into discussing whether some of them were too focussed on buildings to fall into the category of landscape, I genuinely had to leave for my train. He requested a high five by way of a farewell, which I planted onto his drunk and orderly hand, and we went our separate ways.
As for the exhibition in Waverley, it’s in Edinburgh only until the end of the month, so, if you find yourself in the area, or have some time before you catch a train, take a look. I can recommend it, with or without drink on board.