I love a bubble. I love it in the form of fizz in a glass – whether it follows the pop of a champagne cork or the hiss of a can being opened on a summer’s day. I love it in a steaming bath where I can sink and disappear into fragrant fluffs of bubbly foam. I even love it (admit it, you do too) in a packet of Hubba-Bubba, two squares, enough to blow a sizeable bubble of pink gum to the point where it is almost transparent and then – pop! – it bursts and splats all over your face like a poorly applied face mask. Bubbles are fun and childish. A great favourite of my Nana’s was to reference the local river, pointing out that she knew we were trying to pull the wool over her eyes, and tell us, “Do you think I came up the Bann in a bubble?” Bubbles are used to convey the cossetted, protected or magical. Those who are sheltered from the world’s harsh realities are said to live in a bubble. K. told me that when she was small her mum would tuck her into bed at night and place her in an invisible, impenetrable bubble in which she would rest safely until morning. “And it always worked,”she added, earnestly. Bubbles are theatrical and ridiculous, as epitomised by Glinda, the good witch from The Wizard of Oz, who emerged from a vibrant pink bubble that neither her pointed crown nor spiky wand managed to puncture. Bubbles can convey something dark – take the thought bubbles on the front cover of Private Eye; bubbles of words hovering over photographs of prominent public figures; bubbles as a satirical wallop, a poke to the ego. Shakespeare uses bubbles to signal dark forces and spell making in the Scottish Play, when the witches (who are as different from Glinda as you can imagine) dance around a bubbling cauldron, chanting their infamous hex, “Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble. Cool it with a baboon’s blood, Then the charm is firm and good.” I like the bubbles of a certain chocolate bar; I dislike the bubbles that sometimes appear on my newly applied nail polish. I love a bubble in my flatbread when I’ve made it properly; I don’t like a bubble on my heel when I’ve blistered it from breaking in new shoes. And there are bubbles I don’t quite understand: the dot.com bubble, the bitcoin bubble, the housing bubble…. all of which make me feel quite ‘befubbled’.
Without doubt, though, my favourite bubble is the good old soapy bubble. A few weeks ago, on the public plaza outside the National Gallery of Scotland on The Mound, I came across a bubble bonanza. Chief bubble curator was a man dressed in classic street-performer garb: bright red shirt, sleeves rolled up past wrists adorned with leather and twisted cotton bands; pencil-leg black trousers, loose at the waist and held up with white braces, they stopped far north of his ankles; battered army surplus boots with hand knitted candy striped socks peeping over the top; a yellow dotted scarf knotted at his neck; on his head a navy captain’s cap with two brass studs at either side of the peak securing a half moon of decorative braid. It wasn’t his dress that commanded attention though, it was the soft explosion of hundreds of bubbles floating off into the sky: some large and bloated, some small and tightly spherical, all of them glistening and shimmering with sun cut colour. He held a long stick in each hand. Between each stick was a thin cord of about two metres in length, secured into loops at intervals. He plopped the string into a large basin of soapy liquid at his feet, drew the string back in a long pulling motion over his head like he was heaving a fish-filled net from the sea, and, instead of fish, out flowed a profusion of bubbles. At first the bubbles appeared in long tubes as if from a glass blower’s pipe, then, somehow, they twisted into strings of sausages, before splitting into what looked like an abundance of baby jellyfish swimming through the air.
Although there were probably a hundred or more people watching, all of us smiling, bubble man was giving his full attention to an audience of two. Standing right in front of him was a little girl, maybe two or three years old, in green wellies and a raincoat. With serious intent and determination, she tried to catch every bubble within her limited reach. Sometimes he would encase her in a bubble and she seemed to hold her breath as if that might help her lift and float. Then, bubble man would turn and cast a bubble spell in the direction of an old lady in a wheelchair; arms outstretched her long, thin, elegant fingers stroking the bubbles that broke around her. Her carer was pushing her gently into the bubbles and her face was bursting with delight. Separated by 80 years and bound together by bubbles, I was enchanted by them that afternoon, and the whole moment is now stored away in a safe bubble in my mind.