I don't have any statistics to back this up, but I'm fairly convinced that most of us are probably reasonably well-at-ease with the notion of ourselves. Good (or bad...relax, nobody's judging you here. Well, not yet, anyway. But there'll be at least a little notice given before that starts up in earnest.Trust me...) old us. We know, for instance, with considerable precision, how tall we are, how many days we can go without showering before people start to complain, what we like for breakfast, whether that breakfast will sit well with the previous night's attempted-debauchery-that-sadly-ended-up-as-just-a-takeaway-and-slightly-too-much-cheap booze...all the stuff that matters on a daily basis.
Just occasionally though, when you least expect it, something can happen to upset all those humdrum personal certainties, and I can vouch personally for the fact that it's not a pleasant feeling. It all happened about 10 years ago, on a not-very-dark summer's night in the fair city of Inverness ( "Dolphinsludge", or "Queen of the Highland Fleshpots" as the Radio Scotland presenter Tom Morton used to call it. Both quite appropriate, depending on the weather and time of day)...
Once upon a time, there was a bar called "Sinners" in Castle Street. "Sinners" was a "fun pub" - you knew this because it had the words "Fun Pub" picked-out in small, tasteful (!) neon lights in the window. Through no particular fault of our own, except our willingness to do almost anything for cash, the WildGeese folky-rocky-whatever band found ourselves booked to play there during the Highland Festival. Well, "Sinners" turned out to be a most interesting place to play...the average age of the crowd was about 16 (I'm possibly being generous here), and the average state of inebriation was "vastly". We were playing on an unpleasantly small balcony area overlooking the main bar area, which also happened to be where the "cool kids" liked to dance. Of course, just about everyone in the place seemed to regard themselves as "cool", so vertiginous claustrophobia was the order of the day for the band. Joy unconfined!
Then the young blokes all started aggressively jostling each other for the chance to dance closest to the most-pished girlies, (if anyone needs to ask why they might be doing so, I suggest you type "Fraternity House Party" into Google and work your way through the first couple of pages of results...), a guy with a broken arm tried to start a fight - was thrown down the stairs for his troubles, and came back for a second go, the blokes who failed to "cop off" with any of the girlies (in whatever state of pishedness) got together and decided it was somebody's fault, and loudly determined to go round to his house and explain this to him (in a non-violent and rational manner) once the pub was shut, and somewhere amidst the always-enticing odour of cigs, spilt drinks, sweat and surplus testosterone we played...well, my mind has mercifully repressed the musical details, but I can't imagine we exactly set the shiny velour seating on fire with our technical wizardry (although some pished eejit with a lighter had a damn good try later on). Not that night, anyway.
Still, we got through the gig, and since there was no way to get our gear out through the thronging hordes in the pub, we opened up a fire exit that lead onto Raining's Stairs, and started humphing our stuff down to the van that way. And that's when it happened. I was coming back up when I was accosted by an evidently alcoholically-enhanced woman, who appeared to be accompanied by a large silverback gorilla (also alcoholically-enhanced)...and if he wasn't an actual gorilla, he was the final, clinching proof of our common primate ancestry. Our brief encounter went as follows:
Drunk Woman With Gorilla: "D'youse ken Roddy Mckenzie?"
Me: "No, um, sorry, no, I don't"
DWWG: (instantly) "Aye youse do!"
Me: (slightly off-balance) "Er...no, honestly, I really don't. I'm not from round here"
DWWG: (louder and even more definite) "Aye youse are!"
Me: (now starting to doubt myself in the face of her absolute certainty...surely she couldn't be right? ) "ummm...I'm afraid I don't live here, I'm from Edinburgh"
DWWG: (with all the self-assurance of a Young-Earth Creationist) "Naw youse arenae! Youse are fae Inverness!"
Now I'm starting to panic, because the gorilla is beginning to get a vague inkling that something is not-quite-right about the conversation. It's clearly a struggle for him, but he's starting to have the notion that someone is disagreeing with his 'burd'...and just for extra fun, our drummer & fiddler have decided it would be a great laugh to shut the fire exit door, thus locking me outside with these kind gentlefolk...
Me: (hammering on door while the guys just grin at me from inside, questioning large chunks of my personal reality, and unable to see any escape route that didn't involve severe physical pain) "I'm very, very sorry, but I've never met anyone called Roddy Mckenzie, uh, we were up doing a gig in there, errr, I don't live in Inverness, uh..."
At that moment, just as the gorilla's face registered an expression of "hang oan, that wee nyaff's sayin' ma burd's wrang..so..he's CALLIN' MA BURD A LIAR!" and he started to move towards me, I fell through the fire door my mates had finally decided to open...which I closed and bolted as hard & fast as the stream of imprecations I was hurling in their shared direction would allow.
I'm sure my friends would say I don't suffer any issues with my sense of self these days, but the haunting memories of temporary doubt and confusion (not to mention mild terror at the thought of what the gorilla was going to do next to defend his "burd's" honour) are still perfectly vivid a decade later.
And I sometimes catch myself wondering who Roddy Mckenzie was, and exactly what befell him later that night..that not-dark-at-all summer's night in the Capital of the Highlands, all those years ago ? (insert your own "wooooooo" sound here)
p.s. apologies to anyone who was seeking a "good time" in Inverness based in any way on this post - "Sinners" is no more. It's now a 'trendy' (i.e. decorated in assorted shades of brown, "designer" sofas that are entirely impractical, and prices that are intended to keep out the unwealthy) coffee house/wine bar/restaurant sort of affair. Go to Leakey's bookshop instead - it's much nicer.