Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Absurd

Tickets, Touts, and the BBC 6 Music Festival

I first attended a live music gig in October 1998 and, writing in April 2017, I have been to about three-hundred-and-fifty others since then. I did not intend to become someone who travels around the country, and occasionally the continent or across oceans, in the pursuit of hearing my favourite bands – but that is who I am. It is possible that I just grew older and cantankerous, but it is equally possible that gig-going has been ruined by online ticket sales, the secondary resale market, and self-obsessed pricks with camera-phones.

It was in 2000 that I began to regularly attend concerts, buying tickets in person from one agent that still exists and two record stores that have closed down. Occasionally, I would buy from the venue direct – the crowning glory being a ticket in the second row of the Edinburgh Playhouse stalls to see Alice Cooper with Dio. I was in the right place at the right time to see the Lostprophets’ first ever Glasgow gig, and Pantera’s last. The influence of a friend (and the cancellation of his scheduled T In The Park festival appearance) meant that I saw David Bowie play what became his final Scottish show. I watched Brutal Deluxe play the Cathouse to an audience of six people, and Iron Maiden play the first Download Festival to sixty thousand. I was there when FFS (Franz Ferdinand and Sparks) played their debut live show, and I flew from Glasgow to Los Angeles just to witness a rare 75-minute Combichrist techno set. In short, my experience has been as wide and varied as my taste in music.

I still enjoy going to smaller club shows (aside from the insufferable selfie-takers, iphone photographers, and especially those who film video with their phones in portrait mode), but trying to obtain tickets for anything popular has become so much of a chore that it has sucked the joy right out of the whole endeavour. Chronologically, my recent gripes have been with the Reeves & Mortimer tour cancellation; Penn and Teller’s UK tour; Alice Cooper’s 2017 presales; and the BBC 6 Music Festival.

Bob Mortimer required emergency heart surgery, meaning that he was unable to perform as scheduled. See Tickets refunded, but kept the transaction fees that everybody had been charged when booking seats – leaving me three pounds out of pocket. Now consider, they had sold out venues every night, each averaging about two thousand seats. Suddenly it is apparent that See skimmed several thousand pounds off a man’s poor health – which is pretty reprehensible.
In 2016, when I was trying to buy four individual tickets to see my favourite band play in four UK cities, See advised me that they offer no “add to basket” option, and would force me to pay a transaction fee on each brief. Thankfully, I used individual agencies and went to the venues own sites and managed to pay a more sensible amount.

Above: Reeves & Mortimer later announced replacement tour dates, but by that point I had lost interest.

Lately, it has frustrated me that both Iron Maiden and Ricky Gervais have opted to use Ticketmaster in their seemingly noble bids to combat touts. Ticketmaster IS the tout – they operate two different secondary resale sites, with alleged evidence that some briefs are diverted for sale there without ever having been made available through the primary channel. Iron Maiden have claimed success with their “ticketless ticketing” system for the 2017 UK tour, while Gervais inflated the price of premium seats himself – giving the additional spend to charity, but again limiting access to only the wealthiest. Despite their assertions, it is not “fairer to the fans” that these high profile acts endorse the one ticketing agency that we all feel ripped off by.

In December 2016, I decided to jump on my chance to see magicians Penn and Teller, whose television career I have been following since the mid-1990s when Channel Four aired “The Unpleasant World of” show. I soon learned that TicketSoup, which was formed by and used to cover sales for Glasgow’s SECC and Clyde Auditorium, had been taken over by or merged with the dreaded Ticketmaster. So began the pain – I logged on and selected (from an interactive plan) the seats that I wanted, at which point an instructional box popped up. Due to high demand, it informed me, I would be unable to select my own seats and instead it would offer me whatever was available. My chosen seats at the front of the first circle had been greyed out, and in their place would I like two seats on the fourth level, three rows from the back wall of the theatre? Not knowing any better, I accepted, suddenly miles from where I wanted to be to see the performance. Insult to injury, the next day a second date was announced, and when idle curiosity (or masochism) made me look at availability, I could have at least had third level. I cannot say that I hold the same enthusiasm, knowing that I was deliberately diverted into buying seats so bad that I will be watching expert sleight of hand from virtually outside.

Above: Metallica are another huge band offering “experiences” instead of tickets. It is no longer enough to just watch a band play live.

That same month, Alice Cooper announced his first UK tour for five years – excitement soon tempered when it was revealed that these gigs in standing arenas would be all seated. If you wanted to be at the front of the stage, you would have to find a seat located there – and good luck to you. Presales were announced on his official site and for customers of two different corporations – one telephones, one home energy. The next day, there would be presales through Ticketmaster and AXS, and on the individual venue pages, followed by general sale the day after that. You had seven places to try, therefore, in pursuit of a decent spot – more, if you planned to try and catch a couple of shows, and his diehard fans often travel to see the lot.
He did at least guarantee a ticket near the front, provided you paid a premium for one of four different “VIP” packages that were on offer. No need for luck, all you need is money – specifically, £482.50 to sit in the front row (and meet him, and various other unnecessary stuff – merchandise and photo opportunities and the like.) Alternatively, you could slum it in rows two to five, for just £426, and meet him but for less time – or whatever the supposed perks are. Personally, some of us just enjoy being down the front to see an iconic showman play his hits accompanied by the finest musicians he can find.

The Alice thing irked his entire fanbase, certainly on one respected and thorough forum. With all packages accounted for, his diehard fans would now be located fifteen rows from the front, behind the casual fans with money to burn, having to find the best available tickets for each location they plan to visit – a tedious process to be repeated as remaining availability dwindled at every subsequent venue on the list. The VIP experience used to be an upgrade, on previous tours, but Alice’s personal assistant (who was very sympathetic) says that sales soared when they included the ticket too. So to Hell with the fans, it is all about ticket company profits.

For my part, I was offered one seat – too far back, though in the centre section, and I declined it – and was automatically then assigned a number of seats dotted around the outskirts of the floor, declining each in the pursuit of something nearer the stage. This was in the presale, and then in the general sale I tried again – and bought again, when I found I could be in row seventeen instead of row thirty. If you want a ticket to see Alice Cooper in Glasgow this November, I have a spare to sell – it is right in front of the sound desk, so if you just want to see the show from the position which should have the best sound (since that is where the operator is listening from), then we can talk. Me, I want to be nearer the action.

Above: Alice’s personal assistant explaining why tickets are now inextricably linked to VIP packages.

I do love my music, which is why I never listen to the radio – a medium where it is used to fill gaps between irritating commercials, or as an interlude from the banal chatter of witless presenters. It was social media that alerted me the 6 Music Festival was coming to Glasgow this year, and I was so excited at the announcement of Sparks that I had to be told directly that they had further revealed a Depeche Mode gig at the relatively tiny Barrowland Ballroom. It seemed a strange choice, given the size of venue (the festival would also encompass the city’s Academy the same night, which holds more), and also for DM’s history here. Singer Dave Gahan’s immediate assertion that they’ve always had a good time here failed to ring true – they played this city in 1986, and did not come back until 2009 (they played Edinburgh in 1988, so their eventual return was twenty-one years after they had last been in Scotland, and twenty-three since they played Glasgow – where, a first-hand source told me, he saw them booed off stage for miming.) Most bands who love us and who regularly tour try to play more frequently than twice every quarter-century.

Aware of these facts, having previously had to travel to Manchester and London in 2006 to see them, my oldest friend and I had decided for various reasons that we were not going to attend any more of their UK dates.  The exception, we both instantly agreed when we heard the news, would be this intimate club set. All I had to do was secure tickets.

A local club DJ stated (perhaps with inside knowledge) that 1400 tickets would be sold, in a venue that usually holds 2000, and my estimate now is that they probably did lose about a third of the capacity due to extended staging, set dressing, and the various technology required for recording and broadcasting. I submitted a Freedom Of Information request after the fact, regarding numbers, but the BBC snippily replied that they were not obliged to provide the data and refused to do so voluntarily. It would have been interesting to learn just how far demand outstripped supply.

Above: Initial reaction pre-empted the chaos of trying to obtain entry.

Due to go on sale at 10am one Friday, I was poised and on the website twenty minutes ahead of time – but clicked away as, I have learned, the link quietly went live fifteen minutes early – placing customers in an online queue, and putting me thirteen minutes behind those who had already discovered the fact. By 10:08am there were no DM tickets left for me, and I hear they sold out faster than that. I could have accepted my poor fortune, if the process had seemed at all fair.

It would be reasonable to think that a portion of tickets could have been allocated for local collection in person only, as the online system was swamped with keen English people and Europeans taking advantage, in the knowledge that trains and flights and hotels can be had for a comparatively low cost. Had a percentage of tickets been kept aside for those in the vicinity, we would have camped out overnight like we used to – knowing we were being held in a queue, on account of the fact we would be able to see all of the people in it. What is the point of taking the festival to different cities every year, if you refuse to guarantee entry for at least some of those living in the vicinity? It might as well be hosted annually in London.

The online system advised not to refresh the browser page, or risk losing your place. One friend, frustrated at the lack of availability, refreshed the page and was rewarded with the option to obtain a pair – suggesting that, as well as going live prematurely, the dedicated site had glitches.

My intention had been to buy four tickets, the two I needed and a further two to sell at face value (I knew a few people looking) – I would be a hero to somebody. Instead, I failed.

The touts succeeded, of course – instantly listing on sites like Viagogo for seven, eight, nine hundred pounds. Touts used to stand outside in the rain, they invested a bit of time and effort. If you were smart, you could wait until showtime and then haggle the price – offering face value (or less) and knowing they would either take what they could get or keep hold of a worthless piece of paper. Not now. Now anybody looking to make a fast buck can do so without standing up.

Above: One of several media reports, all focused on how quickly the gig sold out and how much touts were charging.

The BBC reacted quickly, promising that nobody who bought on the secondary market would get in. Absolutely, definitely not. No chance. ID to be checked on the door. very strict, do not attempt it. That policy worked well – and I say that with the sarcasm of someone who bought a ticket on Twitter for the Sparks and Goldfrapp gig, and who can be seen in the BBC’s own footage, at the barrier, applauding the former after their performance of “Dick Around.” Meanwhile, another friend bought tickets for DM, and then forked out for a fake ID (which she had to order in the name of the man who had originally paid for the tickets) – not only was this ruse successful in getting her in, it makes a mockery of the whole enterprise: forced to fund the secondary ticket market AND invest in the equally immoral practice of forging identification documents.

For my part, a generous stranger purchased a ticket for me on Viagogo (the reasons for this are a story in themselves), leaving me desperately trying to find my friend a way in. This friend, I have written before, introduced me to DM and they are her band. It was imperative that she be there, to which end I racked my brains and investigated every avenue. It was hopeless.

On the Saturday, the Gigs In Scotland Twitter page announced a handful of tickets would be immediately released for every venue that evening – I can only presume that this was from the allocations reserved for the BBC, and released for sale once they knew how many staff, guests, and VIPs they expected. It was 2:27pm, and the official BBC 6 Music page retweeted the information, meaning that Gigs In Scotland was the original source of the news. Come the Sunday, I sat on their page from 1pm until 4pm, refreshing constantly, only to discover – nothing. In vain, I phoned the Barrowland, who confirmed that there would be no tickets on the door that night, and no Production tickets released. It was over. I had exhausted every option.

I phoned my friend, adamant that she take my ticket, which she refused with equal stubbornness. Short of marching her there, I had no choice but to concede. My enthusiasm was gone, replaced with the sadness of knowing that I had let down my oldest friend, my closest confidante. I had a way in for myself, but was disconnected from it – a gift from someone I have never met, unrelated to my persistence and effort. I could take it or leave it, and would have surrendered it in a moment had my friend only agreed. Instead, I used the tout-sold ticket that the BBC had definitely blocked, and went in to watch my best friend’s once-in-a-lifetime dream gig, without her.

The stage had been extended to accomodate the band, with fully grown trees felled and placed at either side as set dressing, both highlighted with ultraviolet paint. The ceiling tiles had been similarly marked, in various colours, to brand the hall in the 6 Music Festival style, and camera equipment further reduced the crowd capacity. They brought us a band who had ignored our city for most of my life, shoehorned them into a space they had made to look nothing like it usually does, and excluded most of the home audience from attending. The gig was amazing, but the overall experience was awful.

Above: In the words of Joseph Heller (Closing Time, 1994) “The Freedom of Information Act…was a federal regulation obliging government agencies to release all information they had to anyone who made application for it, except information they had that they did not want to release. And, because of this one catch in the Freedom of Information Act…they were technically not compelled to release any information at all. […] It was a good catch…because the government did not have to release any information about the information they chose not to release…”

 

 

 

 

 


Dubious Claims To Fame 25: Butcher Babies

I had a good day ruined by one of the Butcher Babies, after seeing them play.

I spent the afternoon with my niece, who is nearing her second birthday, and in a rare burst of sunshine and warmth we went to the play park. She had great fun, and in the visitor centre she finally found the courage (with my reassurance) to climb for the first time through the dark tunnel with their mocked-up badger sett. Previously she has been too scared. My work as Best Uncle continues.

Back in town, I followed my plan to see the Butcher Babies, whose debut album has had a fair number of plays on my stereo since the band were recommended to me – a year or so ago. The opening band were local, with a good press, and I have been trying to see them live for some time. Tonight, at last, was to be the night.

IMG Splintered HaloAbove: Splintered Halo. Four of them wear masks and one wears very little indeed.

Sure enough, Splintered Halo drew a decent crowd of their own, and quickly won over the early-comers who were new to them. In sixteen years of local gig attendance, I have rarely seen a band so focused, so tight, with such a clear identity and character-driven lyrics and performance. With an EP out and an album in progress, and on the back of the show I saw this evening, their star may be about to rise – nationally, and perhaps internationally too.

The second (and main) support was a band called Sumo Cyco – the best and most interesting unknown (to me) metal band I have heard in years, and I write that as someone who has seen hundreds of bands and listened to thousands. With a hardcore energy, infectious enthusiasm, and a frontwoman both vocally adept and unafraid to jump in amongst the crowd, they electrified the gig. At the merch booth, cheerful guitarist Matt initiated conversation, on account of the KMFDM shirt I was wearing, and we both hail from Hamilton – me from the nearby Scottish town, and them from its Canadian namesake. Although fifteen pounds is expensive for a CD these days, I happily bought a copy of their album. Next time they play, I will be there.

IMG Sumo CycoAbove: Sumo Cyco. Singer Skye had removed her captain’s hat but was dressed to speed a bonnie boat over the sea.

Butcher Babies were impressive, an excellent headline band with two talented female singers. There is Heidi, a blonde with vivid red in her hair – she seems lovely and friendly. Outside the venue, I saw her walking from the tour bus and said “Good show,” in passing, and she grabbed my hand and quickly shook it with a warm smile and a ‘thank you’ on her way back into the building.

Their other singer, Carla, is a total cow with a bad attitude problem, as I learned to my cost just prior to seeing Heidi.

I was walking down the stairs that lead to the front door/exit of the Cathouse, heading home. At the very moment I reached the half-open door, on my way out, Carla stepped inside. I said “Good show,” and she asked “Could you do me a favour?”

I immediately thought (in hindsight, my error) that she had mistaken me for a bouncer – at the doorway into the building – because it happens to me all the time. In my boots, I stand six foot four. I have broad shoulders, weigh about twenty stones, and have a natural resting facial expression which seems to sit somewhere in the vicinity of disapproving, unamused, unimpressed, or whatever other qualities immediately suggest ‘bouncer’ to people in clubs, at gigs, and once at a bus stop. It had already happened earlier that very evening, in the crowd, while she was on stage.

IMG Butcher BabiesAbove: Butcher Babies, with Heidi centre stage and Carla behind her on the right.

Fans of comedian Kevin Bridges will relate to his description of the awkward moment in a shop, when someone mistakes you for a salesperson and you have to embarrassedly say “I don’t actually work here.” That was what I said, or began to express, in response to being asked for a favour – attempting to make clear that I was willing to grant this favour, provided Carla realised I was not staff at the club. Instead, she unleashed an unwarranted torrent of Fuck Yous and You Fucking Assholes at me, which caught me completely off-guard and led to me trying to further explain while her inexplicably angry outburst continued. It takes a lot to unsettle me, but she managed. She wanted a photo taken, of her and the mural on the wall of the staircase, and as that became clear I offered to take it – too late, as an unbelievably simple misunderstanding descended into complete verbal abuse. I was too taken aback to even retaliate, or to commiserate with the actual bouncer after the fact. I simply went home, shocked and becoming increasingly annoyed at how much of an unnecessary cunt she had been.

Butcher Babies Tweet Reply redactedAbove: Carla responded to me on Twitter, something like “I knew you weren’t a bouncer, but I asked you to take a photo and you said no, so I said fuck you :-)” – not shown as she deleted her tweet once I replied to it and before I screengrabbed it.

It is an interesting tactic, in this era of illegal downloads and general apathy, to round on somebody who has paid to see you just for seemingly refusing to take your photo. Presumably the aim of this thirteen-date UK tour was to build on their fanbase, not undermine it. However, I have seen bands who can manage to actually sell out the Cathouse, and bigger venues, and never have I witnessed anything like what happened tonight – let alone been subjected to it. Next time they play here they will sell one less ticket.

Last week, I flew to Los Angeles to see my favourite band play a unique and sold-out show. We have been friends for eleven years, I was thanked from the stage, backstage we drank together – following welcoming hugs – and we laughed and chatted and caught up until the bar was closed. We will do it again next time too. So the question is, if I have in my life bands who truly appreciate my support, why the fuck do I need Butcher Babies?

 

Update: It turned out to be mutual, as I was swiftly blocked on Twitter when I posted and linked to this blog. Admittedly, tagging her and referring to her as a “total cunt” probably escalated the situation – I suspect that is why her borderline-civil tweet was replaced with an inaccurate but all-out offensive, as demonstrated by the following.

Butcher Babies blocked

One of my friends took it upon himself to ask her about it, receiving the reply below, after which he was instantly blocked too – hardly the actions of an innocent. Carla seems very fast to dish out unjustified criticism, and unable to take it. Without wishing to give any weight to her reply, there are two things here. Firstly, it’s hard to imagine that a Glasgow bouncer was interested enough to volunteer an opinion about an interaction between a sober punter in good humour (until increasingly bewildered by unfolding events) on his way out of the club, and a diva who had just headlined a show there. It might have been different had I hung around arguing, invoking the wrath of city centre nightclub door staff, but I just left.

Furthermore, if I was a bouncer, and one of the headline band looked to me and said of someone, “What a cunt,” I would probably agree too just to end the conversation – if he did agree, which I cannot know. Frankly, I do not know anyone who can be bothered entering, or looking for, drama – except, perhaps, an image-based LA band such as Butcher Babies.

Davie tweet butcher babies redacted

This is now stalemate, and in the undesired territory of tedious online drama. For my own amusement, I wanted to employ caustic wit to try and get myself banned from their Facebook page too – but to do so would be to lose whatever high ground I might have. With 270,000 followers on their page it is hard to imagine any of the band will care very much, especially not as I have already been dismissed as “a jerk.” Rather than waste any more time on this, I would sooner go and chat with musicians who have less chips on their shoulder and more in the way of a sense of humour.

 

Update 2: Blocked again. You cannot reason with the thoroughly unreasonable. Game over. And you know what? I sincerely regret going to that gig. I want to be uplifted, I want to smile. I do not spend my time and money on supporting live music in order to offend the band members on my way out the door, and I wish I had never met that sour and twisted poisonous arsehole. She is a fucking snake.

Butcher Babies FB Blocked

 

 

 

 

 

 


Airport Insecurity Measures

I recently owned a beautiful keyring. Elegantly designed, it was a slim metal cylinder with one rounded end. The other end butted neatly to a small metal cube which had a circular hole through it, above which the keyring attached. The cylinder could be unscrewed – a piece of precision engineering, with a nice weight and action to it – to reveal the spiral shaft of a corkscrew, the cylinder then sliding into the hole in the cube to become the crosspiece. It was sleek, but underused. In the two years I had it attached to my keys, alongside a bottle opener that has accompanied me for a decade, it served its hidden purpose only a handful of times.

In honesty, I had forgotten there was a corkscrew on my keyring, because I used it as a keyring more than as a means of removing the stops from wine bottles. I was only reminded of the fact in the same instance that I ceased to own it, in the moments when Bristol’s airport security identified and confiscated it.

airport blog - keyring picAbove: A keyring/corkscrew similar to the one I no longer possess.

In truth, it was a civil and almost pleasant interaction, as a female agent (surname Ilyas, if any journalists want to verify this account) checked whether she could return it to me. With only hand luggage, I would have to surrender the item. I could, she said, collect it on my return. I needed to point out that this was me returning, flying home to Glasgow after a weekend away. They could retain and post it to me, she advised, and in a decision I now regret I declined. They wanted to charge me shipping and a handling fee of six pounds, and I hastily reasoned that it would cost almost as much to just buy a replacement.

It is a shame that Glasgow’s security staff were not as vigilant. If they had clocked the offending object, I would have left it in their possession until my return. At a push, the person who dropped me off at the airport could have come back and taken it away for safekeeping. Glasgow Airport, however, home of a famously-thwarted terrorist attack almost exactly eight years ago, also allowed me to board my flight without once checking my passport.

Airport blog - kicked headlineAbove: One of the widely-shared headlines from the 2007 attack.

Permit me to repeat that. At Glasgow Airport, on Friday 3rd July 2015, I was able to effortlessly board my flight without having my identification checked and while – it transpires – carrying a restricted item.

How did I manage it? By checking in online, with no hold luggage to deposit at the desk. I took my hand luggage straight to security and merely scanned my boarding pass to gain access. At the departure gate, an airline representative again scanned my boarding pass, but without asking for or looking at my passport. On the plane, I was able to just walk in and take my seat.

I am certain that interested parties with the relevant clearance will be able to confirm this by studying the CCTV footage which must surely exist.

It says very little about the “security” measures implemented in airports, suggesting they are for show – and rely on sheer luck – as much as they depend upon intelligence and scrutiny. That keyring has flown on my person three times from Glasgow, once from Berlin, and once from Bristol. It was noticed ahead of the sixth flight it was bound for.

My carrying it on all occasions was purely an oversight, with no criminal intent. The realisation, combined with this complete failure to verify my identity – on the parts of both airport and airline – does not exactly instil confidence.

I can accept that a partly-concealed corkscrew will go unnoticed for a while. With the advancement of technology and the increases in legislation and prohibition, it is important that airports do not forget the basic age-old check of looking at passports. It should not be possible to board a plane using only a home-printed piece of paper.

Airport blog - corkscrew prohibited govAbove: It is actually the first thing on the list. Pity it failed to occur to me to check.


A Delivery Company Who Just Don’t Deliver.

Dear UK Mail,

What an absolutely splendid job you are doing, of delaying my parcels by not delivering them and then – when queried – of dishonestly claiming to have attempted delivery. I trust this letter will give you some insight, although I suspect that – rather than enabling you to better the service you pretend to provide – you will instead learn to lie more convincingly.

I recently bought some record mailers, in bulk, and on the promise of next-day delivery. I bought them on a Saturday, and gave the company full leeway – perhaps they would not process the order until Monday, and I permitted them until the Thursday before enquiring as to the whereabouts of my parcel. Since I am presently working from home, you can maybe imagine my surprise when they informed me that, “The carriers have attempted delivery however they have advised each time there is no contact /access.”

record mailersAbove: Some record mailers. Admittedly not the most exciting purchase of my life. Photo: Sounds Wholesale Ltd.

My response? “At the risk of calling them liars, the main door to my tenement building opens if you push it – there’s no secure entry – and, presuming they managed to overcome that small obstacle, it’s normal practice to leave a card when a delivery is missed. I have been checking every day since Monday – no parcel, no card.”

Subsequently, they managed to fulfil my order the next working day. I mentioned to the driver about the absence of a card, and he somewhat accusingly told me he had left one. Given that he seemed angrier about it than I had anticipated, I accepted that we were at an impasse and did not pursue the matter.

In the meantime, I had placed a second order with another company, for some stiff card envelopes. When these, too, failed to materialise in a timely manner, I contacted them and said, “My parcel should have arrived two days ago, by the latest estimate, and I’ve already had problems with UK Mail this week. Can you chase it up?”

Guess what they told me?

“We do use UK Mail for our Courier deliveries.
They have already tried to deliver your parcel on 2 occasions, but were unable to gain access to your building.”

Let me repeat that my block of flats has an unsecured communal entry. Access is available by PUSHING OPEN A DOOR, and your driver had previously managed that when bringing my record mailers. Had he somehow forgotten the process in the course of a few days?

UK Mail screengrab

More intriguingly, if he cannot operate a door then how does he get in and out of his vehicle? I presume he has a vehicle, and does not simply carry parcels around by hand. If that is indeed his method, it could account for the slowness of delivery.

Helpfully, this new company said they would ask for my parcel to be left in the foyer – that is, the close – which suited me fine. I live in a relatively quiet area, and trust my neighbours. Previous parcels have sat for days untouched outside my front door, circumstances being what they were.

Today, the next working day, I stepped out of the shower to discover a Missed Delivery card had been pushed through the letterbox. No sign of the parcel, and no details filled in on the card. Now I need to reschedule an already-late delivery, and I have just sold a whole load of stuff on Ebay that I am unable to post as the envelopes are somewhere in your depot.

To reiterate, I was told by one company that “each time” you had called there was no access, and the other company told me you had tried to deliver “on two occasions.” In both cases, a simple inquiry to them resulted in the delivery arriving the next working day.

I am calling you liars due to one key fact. If, as claimed, you had already visited my property twice, why did it take until the alleged third time before you actually left a card?

Far more likely, I feel, is that you claim to have attempted delivery because it is cheaper and less time-consuming than actually attempting delivery. Then you can force people to reschedule at a time when there is a greater chance of them being home.

I find myself in a position where I need to buy more packing materials, but am tempted to shop elsewhere purely so I do not have to deal with UK Mail again. This is hardly fair on the companies whose business you are impacting, however I suspect this level of service is indicative of your general disdain for customers. I need these products when I need them, and not when you can be bothered to physically turn up with them after having pretended to.

Without being wholly naive, I cannot expect this email will make the blindest bit of difference to your attitude or your business model. Unless, of course, this is a poor example of how your organisation operates and my local depot is just employing a lazy bastard or two.

[Signed, me]

Update: When I tried to send this, I discovered that the website does not offer an email address, and the contact form has a character limit which is less than half the length of this letter. Furthermore, when I input the card number and my postcode, to rearrange delivery, it told me there were no results found. The card has a promotional offer advertised on it, which expired six months ago – should that explain anything. Personally, I am done. If you ever get the chance to use UK Mail, avoid it.

uk mail not foundAbove: This is what happened when I tried to reschedule. In the red-lined box is a photo of the card I received. I have blacked out my postcode but be assured I entered it correctly.

 

 

 

 


Customer Dissatisfaction Is Virgin Territory

Having sent this email and received a reply so brief as to be almost non-existent, which also continued in its failure to address anything I had said, I wrote back without particularly holding back:

Dear Mr Farress, “Customer Relations Consultant”,

I trust you had a pleasant Christmas, and presume that you over-imbibed: only the presence of a monstrous hangover can possibly explain the brevity of your latest reply.

The alternative is that Virgin Trains are even less interested in providing adequate customer service than they are in ensuring trains run punctually, or at all.

I have written two letters of complaint, totalling eleven full typed pages, and so far you have failed to directly address a single sentence. Putting in a modicum of effort is unlikely to kill you, despite how it might feel – suffering as you must surely be from your festive alcoholic over-indulgence. I would have been happy to wait until the New Year for a response, had it meant you were sufficiently clear-headed to send me an appropriate reply.

I see now why your previous letter was full of copied-and-pasted (albeit irrelevant) paragraphs – left to your own devices, you have misspelled the word “cancellation,” an error which seems glaring given how many times you must encounter it in the course of your working life. Furthermore, you have asked me to “send through the relevant tickets” – I attached photographs to my original email, and you will find them there if you peer closer through your booze-induced fug. I can send them again if you prefer. You have already wasted so much of my time, you may as well squander a little more.

To remind you of the facts, I had booked four Virgin Train journeys in the space of six days. Of those four trains, two were cancelled and one arrived late. You have completely failed to address any issues mentioned with the staff, the service provision, or the level of customer service encountered thus far – most of which has been unsatisfactory.

I understand that, as a major company and in line with others of your size, you do not need to particularly care about any given customer’s experience. We are all but drops in the ocean to you. However, you most certainly do not lack the funds to reimburse me for my tickets and for the inconvenience and distress caused. Even discounting the refund of the concert ticket, which you refuse to pay despite forcing me to miss the gig – my sole reason for travelling – you should still be held to account.

I therefore repeat my request that you issue me a payment of £120 to cover my expenses, the abomination of a service you barely provide, and the stress and worry caused as a result of your actions and inactions.

I would also like a full reply to my original complaints, regarding the failure of station and train staff to adequately convey information.

I would ask to “escalate” this letter, but am informed by your Twitter team that I must telephone to do so – at my expense. They inform me that escalation will also occur if I include the VT-reference number attached to my initial email, however (having already included it in my follow-up communication) that previously returned straight to you. It is hardly escalation if we continue going round in circles, all my replies answered by the same work-shy inebriate who has exhausted so much endeavour in celebrating Christmas that he has no inclination to perform his job with any degree of competence.

Nevertheless, I will play by your rules. Please ensure this letter is escalated, and – once your New Year hangover has subsided and you feel able to write with relevance – I will be happy to hear what steps you will be taking to resolve this. In addition to receiving the payment and reply asked for.

Yours,

[Me]

While waiting for a reply, I am considering sending the whole of my correspondence to the CEO.

Update: I plan to write a separate blog to conclude this tale, but the upshot is – three letters totalling twelve pages later – they have refunded me £24 in cash (cheque) and sent me £100 in rail vouchers. My Virgin Train tickets, for the journeys which merited these complaints, cost me £90.

Virgin reply £100 vouchersAbove: Resolution, in which boyband Jedward (see signature) ignore all the points of my letter and give me vouchers on the proviso I leave them alone.

 

 


Like A Virgin, Train Cancelled For The Second Time.

Virgin Trains cancelled my travel to Preston, UK, and that complaint can be read here. The following refers to that letter, their response, and the cancellation of a second train four days later.

Dear Virgin Trains, you are the Rolling Stones of cross-country commutes. I can’t get no satisfaction.

While I appreciate that, for a company of your stature, it is easier to throw money at problems rather than adequately address them, I had hoped for a better response. In addition to the cheque which you sent, reimbursing the first of my problem trips with you this past week, I had – perhaps naively – hoped you might address at least one of the many issues highlighted.

Your response, full of irrelevant standard paragraphs, assures me that you will be working hard on “improving the environment on board” two types of train “during 2014.” With two weeks of 2014 left, these proposed changes should have been enacted by now, unless you are planning a rush job – and it does not matter how comfortable your trains are if you cancel them and replace them with buses, as per the nature of my complaint.

As previously documented, in the six-page essay which formed the basis of complaint number VT-111214-xxxx, I had a train cancelled on Wednesday 10th December. A replacement bus eventually delivered me from Glasgow Central to Preston, and it was borderline unbearable. On Sunday 14th December, you then also cancelled my train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston. So much for your stated hope that “the work [you] are doing this year is reflected in [my] experience next time [I] travel.”

I have followed the band Combichrist religiously, pun fully intended, since 2005. Beginning as venue crew working for the local promoter and helping them load in their gear, I was instantly a fan of their music and of their live show, and have befriended them in the years since. I find myself in the rare and privileged position where my favourite band are as happy to see me as I am to see them.

They tour the UK annually and, since they changed promoter, I now make the effort to catch them a few times around the country during the one week in fifty-two that they are here. This is the sole purpose of my journeys to Preston and London recently, hence my annoyance when you punished my loyalty by hindering my travel arrangements.

With the poor experience of Wednesday behind me, my faith in your company was partially restored when – on the return leg the following day – your ticket office staff in Preston allowed me to travel on an earlier train home than booked, at no extra cost. In fairness, I was just happy to be able to take a train and not another excruciating replacement coach.

I then saw the band in Glasgow on Friday, with plans to see them in London on Sunday. This latter trip involved travelling with Scotrail, Trans Pennine Express, and Virgin Trains. Ahead of departure, I once again checked for any possible disruptions. It was absolutely imperative that I made it to London in a timely fashion.

On the Saturday evening, I had received a message from one of the band’s road crew (and drummer for their support act) saying he had mislaid his jacket in Glasgow and – with it – his passport. For an internationally-touring band on a strict schedule, this mattered. Could I, he wondered, help try and locate it?

Faced with the daunting prospect of tracking down a single black jacket from a gig that hosted four-hundred people wearing them, I offered suggestions and made enquiries. If the passport could be located and placed in my possession before mid-morning on Sunday, I would be able to carry it with me and return it in person.

It was a possibility, if the jacket had been lost or left in Glasgow. However, if it had been mistakenly taken home to Edinburgh or Aberdeen, then the band were looking at the prospect of either abandoning a core member of their touring party, or paying a hefty sum of cash to alter long-standing plans and amend bookings while waiting on an expedited courier to deliver it.

Against the odds, an appeal on their Facebook page resulted in its retrieval from behind the drum riser, where it had been safely hidden so well that it failed to turn up during two previous venue searches. Arrangements were hastily made, and I collected the jacket and its contents prior to leaving my hometown on Sunday. Together, we travelled to Manchester and alighted in readiness for catching the connecting train.

As I walked into the main concourse of Piccadilly, with forty-eight minutes to kill, I glanced at the departures board and saw that it did not yet list my onward journey. Looking around, I quickly spotted half a dozen of your red-coated staff dotted about and considered approaching them, to enquire if there had been any service disruption since I was last able to check. I quickly dismissed the idea as folly – sure, you had cancelled on me on Wednesday, but today there was not even a weather warning. It would be ludicrous to presume you could not do your job – so I thought.

I stepped out of the station momentarily, time being at my disposal, then made my way towards two Virgin trains sitting idle. I knew neither was mine, and yet I felt compelled to double-check. Imagine my dismay when, reading the information board, I learned that you had cancelled the 1515. Unlike last time, cancelling my travel was not just an inconvenience resulting in me possibly missing the gig. This time, the immediate continuation of the tour rested on this passport getting back to its owner.

By some stroke of luck, one of these two trains was bound for Euston. I decided I was going to board it, sick of the hassle you had so far caused me. Storming towards the station inspectors, with no intention of them stopping me, I was ready to tell them I was taking this earlier train. Your staff pre-empted me, and said I could get on.

Fighting through packed carriages, and crossing through the shop, I eventually found an empty and available seat. Three minutes later, we started moving. While joyful at the comparative ease with which I had managed to continue on my way, I remained furious that this had happened a second time.

With no idea when my new mode of travel was due to arrive, and aware that my tickets were booked for a specific train and thus not valid on this one, I opted to seek out the manager for clarification. The easiest way, I figured, would be via the shop. Sure enough, the chap serving there was able to provide our estimated arrival time. Then he confused me.

My ticket was valid, but my reservation was not. This, he assured me, would not pose a problem. If something is not valid, then surely that becomes a problem? All I knew was, I had two ticket-shaped pieces of paper, and one of them was invalid. Having failed to obtain the manager as requested, in the incorrect belief he had helped me, the presence of a sandwich-buying customer at the till-point cut short our conversation. I gave up, found the seat I had left, and tweeted to ask if you were taking the piss or just enjoyed my previous complaint letter so much that you want another one. In retrospect, you cannot have enjoyed it very much, or you would have replied to it directly and not in vague genericisms.

Reasoning that I should not be on this train, it occurred that I should definitely not be in First Class – so I went to sit there instead, seeking what little comfort I could from your appalling service. There, at least, I had a table and a socket where I could charge my phone. In truth, I fail to see the attraction – I had passed through emptier, quieter, and child-free, carriages to get there. The Wi-Fi might be free, but it is not up to much.

DSC_3208Above: The passport and jacket at the centre of this tale.

I had not been in First Class very long, before a trolley was wheeled through and free stuff handed out. I politely declined, reckoning that way you cannot accuse me of anything. In hindsight, I could have accepted a box of free shit – crisps or chocolate or whatever you put in it – and then, in this letter, pretended not to. The reality is I did not take anything, and it is probably this characteristic integrity and honesty which contributes to me being trusted to return American passports to their rightful owners, rather than clandestinely sell them to willing Russians.

Without warning, the ticket inspector appeared in the carriage ahead of me. I took a drink of water (which I bought prior to my journey, though I suspect I could have had some free while masquerading as a genuine First Class customer), and formulated the case I would present when handing my tickets over.

“You should not be in this carriage,” he would say, in the scenario I mentally concocted.
“If you look closer, I should not even be on this train,” I would contend. “Since the rules don’t apply, I will sit here, with a socket and a table and some legroom.”

If met with resistance, I would say, “Listen,” and gesture for him to sit opposite me while I relayed the tale which forms this email and the one which preceded it. Showing him the notes I had jotted down, I would give him the option of being a hero or a bad guy in this letter. He would obviously elect to be a good guy, and let me stay here, right?

How disappointed I was to be, when he simply took my tickets, circled the date in biro without question, and handed them back to me.

The mother at the adjacent table then engaged him in an involved discussion about the benefits (or not) of having a particular type of discount railcard. Having taken the time to relay the various merits, he turned back to me.

“Here we go!”, I thought.

His face showed a flicker of recognition. “I’ve done you, haven’t I?”
“Aye.”

And he disappeared down the carriage, behind me.

What a hollow victory that was, Virgin. I had prepared my strategy and planned for battle, only to have my rebellion not so much quashed as unnoticed.

– – – – –

Once in London, my nostrils immediately assailed by the stench of piss which seems to define that city, I made my way to the venue. I found the stage door with relative ease, having once performed there myself in my occasional capacity as a stand-up comedian.

I could tell you how I came to perform stand-up comedy as a means of introducing Aesthetic Perfection, Mortiis, and Combichrist, to a thousand Londoners – in front of the band’s L.A.-based manager – but, frankly, given you all but ignore the content of my letters, you do not deserve to know.

[You, the curious reader, can find out a bit more on this post, over on my comedy blog.]

Suffice to say that it remains a life highlight, and a continuing source of personal disbelief, that – as the screen rose and a crowd of die-hard fans screamed for their heroes – all they saw was me standing there, microphone in hand, saying, “Yes, I know you want to see Combichrist. But first, a joke…”

This time, knocking on the stage door, I breathed the magic words: “I have Ben’s passport.”

I was ushered straight up the stairs and into the green room, and do not think I have ever been hugged so much in my life as I was that day. The band would now be able to leave for their ferry and continue the tour as scheduled, your cancellation of my train a mere blip on the route to this happy ending. Having travelled from Scotland to London every year since they played a one-off December show there in 2005, I was glad that it finally served a practical purpose: my appreciation of a good live music show prevented a lot of unnecessary expense and red-tape.

The gig itself, I enjoyed. There are minor differences in the set-list every night, and variations in the band’s onstage antics (every one of them is a showman and performer as well as a consummate musician), and I might not travel as much if they spent their evenings trundling out a tired wade-through of familiar crowd-pleasers. No, this is a highly energetic band who never seem to have less fun onstage than the audience do watching and listening to them.

I partied with friends – also fans – and then with the band after the show, leaving them to make their way to the coast and mainland Europe as I wandered into the early-morning darkness in pursuit of my 5:30am train back to Glasgow. Would you have cancelled it too? As it stood, I had booked four trains and you had cancelled two of them. This was your chance to pull back from being seventy-five percent shit and retain the reputation of only being half shit.

Hurrah! My train was listed as running to schedule. As soon as I was able, I boarded and took my seat, and you began slow-cooking me.

Firstly, I do not understand how you can call it The Quiet Zone when you broadcast loud announcements non-stop. You were making more noise than any of the passengers, repeating every destination twice per station – once on arrival and once (a minute later) on departure. And, my God, there were a lot of stations to stop at. The one positive was the sweet, blessed relief as the doors opened and a gust of fresh air blew in with each new set of customers. Sitting in a festering sweat-pit is not my idea of the “comfortable trip” you “aim to ensure” in the copied-and-pasted opening of the letter you sent regarding my Preston journey. I was that hot and uncomfortable I began to consider whether it could be the onset of the menopause, which I had never before thought my gender could even experience.

Having baked torturously for several hours, we finally arrived in Glasgow – late. Of four services in six days, you cancelled two and delayed one. That is a pretty poor record.

Furthermore, having made this journey annually for some years, I now know to allow myself a few days recovery time to get over whatever cold I invariably catch while travelling with you. It would, to my mind, be far more honest if “Air-Conditioning” was relabelled as “Recycled Breath.”

This year, presumably on the back of you effectively running an incubator of germs from one end of the country to the other, I have been infected with the most Hellish chest cold, which has impacted on my asthma and made every breath a chore and every cough a Herculean effort. Picture Patrick McGoohan on his deathbed in “Braveheart”, multiplied by Nicole Kidman in “Moulin Rouge”, and you have an idea of this discomfort.

In conclusion, then, I expect you to reply in a relevant manner this time and without resorting to your stock responses. I still request reimbursement for seventy-five percent of the price of the ticket for the Preston show, since you caused me to miss most of the gig. In addition, I expect you to reimburse my travel costs from Manchester to London, and from London to Glasgow, plus make a goodwill payment on top to cover the stress of having two time-sensitive journeys cancelled at zero notice.

For ease, here is a breakdown, in figures:

Preston ticket: £13.13 (75% of the £17.50 face value)
Manc – London: £35.50
London – Glas: £30.50

Which is a total of £79.13

Accounting for the discomfort and distress caused throughout this week by your failure to run trains – the sole expected duty of Virgin Trains – and taking into consideration the inadequacy of your previous response, I will be happy to receive a cheque for £120 to write off the whole sorry matter.

I look forward to your (this time personalised) reply.

Here is their lacklustre response. My reply to it is here.

Virgin letter - second replyAbove: Their brief and misspelled reply. Read my response to it and them here.

 

 


Going Off The Rails On Virgin Trains

Post updated to include a photo of their reply, 22nd December 2014. A follow-up complaint, addressing this and the cancellation of my London train four days later, can be read here.

Dear Virgin On The Ridiculous,

It gives me no joy to write this, which – coincidentally – is precisely the same amount of joy (none) which you provided on my journey to England yesterday. As I anticipate that this will be a lengthy missive, I recommend that you make yourself a cup of tea before you begin reading.

My favourite band tour the UK once a year, and it has long been my habit to see them a few times in that week, up and down the country. I reason that, since I have to wait twelve months for a seventy-five minute show, it makes sense to see a couple of their gigs, knowing that once they leave I will have another year to wait for their return.

To give you some indication of how passionately I love live music, and this one band in particular, I have seen them twenty-nine times, in five countries, on two continents. It was never my intention to become one of those fans who travels to see a given band, nor to follow them on tour, it was a natural progression and just sort of happened over the course of nearly ten years.

I am due to see them another twice this week, although that hinges – in part – on you managing to get me to London on my booked trains. After yesterday’s debacle, I have lost faith in your abilities.

With the recent Met Office warning that has been dubbed a “weather bomb” – enabling this country’s diabolical media to focus their front pages on photographs of waves when, if they had any kind of conscience to speak of, they would be systematically dismantling every lie to emanate from Cameron, Osborne, and Iain Duncan Smith – I was worried that my travel might be disrupted. So worried, in fact, that I looked into buying travel insurance that would cover cancellation, and “tweeted” you on Tuesday to ask about any known issues. I was assured that my train should be running “as normal”, and I subsequently packed for my overnight trip. Although I enquired if you offered any add-on insurance that I could buy, this went unanswered. Factoring in the costs of my excursion (train, hotel, gig ticket), and weighing it against the excess due on the one policy I found for UK trips, I realised there was little point purchasing any. Abandoning the endeavour would see me reimbursed a mere fifteen pounds. I would just risk it.

On Wednesday morning, with hysteria and panic leading mistitled “news” reports about a bit of wind and rain in mid-December, I considered it pertinent to check again. The service, you replied via Twitter, was still running. At my request, I was then directed to a webpage where I could verify for myself, nearer the time, that there were no drastic changes. The last thing I did before leaving the house was ensure my train was scheduled and punctual.

Having dedicated a not-inconsiderable amount of energy, time, and effort, to ensuring it was worthwhile packing and making my way to Glasgow Central – tempering my enthusiasm for being at the gig with the knowledge that I might not make it there – you may perhaps appreciate my dismay when, upon arrival at the concourse, the departures board announced that my train had been cancelled.

Crestfallen, I headed straight for Virgin’s office. The girl behind the counter cheerfully informed me that – despite the apocalyptic storm that had threatened to thwart my plans – it was a broken-down freight train causing my chagrin. With everything now in disarray, I wondered what my options were. It was 15:20 and my train was due to leave at 15:40, arriving in Preston at 17:55 – with venue doors opening at 19:00.

Somewhat less than ideally, I would have to board a chartered bus to Carlisle, catching a train there to complete my journey. Estimating two hours of coach travel, the girl suggested it might be a further hour by rail after that. Not particularly enamoured with the idea of heading two-hundred miles only to miss the sole reason for going, it struck me as foolish to abandon my plans at that stage. Better, surely, to take the chance and hopefully catch some of the headline band, at least.

Your office was filling up with people idly awaiting the promised coaches. I elected to wait outside, at the Gordon Street entrance if you know the geography of the station, desperately hoping I might get on the first coach and make a speedy departure. Denied. The more I looked for the promised bus, the more it was not there. Equally scarce were any Virgin staff – presumably hiding from the wrath of other disgruntled and inconvenienced would-be passengers.

Eventually, one woman did come out, a woman with the dark-haired, craggy-faced look of Alice Cooper about her. I neglected to mention that, out of politeness, but said politeness was sadly not reciprocated. In answer to my question, about buses and destinations, she curtly said “I’m going in here,” as she failed to break stride while marching back into the office. I have worked in customer service much of my life, and learned long ago that basic manners cost nothing and – indeed – reflect well on a company. I could have said as much to this woman, hindered only by the fact she had strutted off before the thought formed. Whatever her mission was, it did not involve the provision of timely information.

Two coaches eventually arrived, people thronging first to one and then to the other, as drivers tried to determine where they were bound. The little red-jacketed Alice Cooper woman – your representative in this sorry episode – reappeared and held a hasty conflab with both drivers, only after a dozen doddery old pensioners had taken ages hauling their snail-paced carcasses on board the rear bus. Duly it was announced that this bus would go to Preston direct, the front bus making the afore-mentioned Carlisle stop. These ancient ruins then took forever carrying their coffin-dodging selves back off the bus, while I silently hated them – with nerves shot and blood pressure rising from the stress.

Little Red Virgin Jacket promptly disappeared again, leaving me with absolutely no idea if I should take the Preston bus or go to Carlisle and transfer there. I figured it made sense to make my way directly to the concert location, rather than risk being stranded in northern England, climbing into the second bus. Stressed – in local parlance – out my nut, the bus finally departed a full thirty minutes after the scheduled train departure.

With no idea how long I would be incarcerated for, angry and frustrated at being forced to use a method of long-distance transport I despise, we were off!

I decided many years ago to always travel by rail or flight, and I have generally been happy with the service you have provided. My first coach journey was a nightmare, my naive and inexperienced nineteen-year-old self trekking to London for the first time, to see another band. The nine-hour ride lasted a full twelve hours, entering the capital at the very moment the support band took the stage. I was panicked, lost, confused, and harassed. Fourteen years later, you successfully managed to revive those feelings.

I enjoy the simple things Virgin offers – the promise of a table seat in a quiet carriage, with phone charging facilities; the chance to have legroom not designed solely for Douglas Bader or, for a more modern reference, Oscar Pistorius. These basic comforts were denied me, any semblance of quiet and calm annihilated by the banal chatter of people I can most accurately describe as tedious bastards. I mean, infuriatingly boring people with nothing to say, yet quite content to say it loudly and without rest.

One of the many, many reasons I jettisoned coaches as a method of going anywhere is the apparent seat design specification which caters only for frail old women. In my boots, I stand at six feet and four inches tall; I am broad-shouldered; I could do with losing some weight, but am not so fat as to have been mistakenly hunted for ivory. These moulded seats are, to me, some intolerable and mediaeval torture. They do not seem equipped to accommodate anybody with an internal skeletal structure – the base of the seat juts firmly into my hip bones, putting strain on my lower back, and the top of the seat back serves to force my shoulders forwards in an extremely unpleasant manner. Furthermore, I had the added discomfort of balancing my heavy backpack on my lap, as there was no room overhead. Please enjoy this image, of a well-built, tall, broad-shouldered man, crammed into a space so small it would barely serve my seven-month old niece. With my knees up to my chin, my belongings weighing on my legs, the only thing missing – sadly, not missing – was an inconsiderate arsehole jamming me in.

See, he was there too, trying to occupy the exact location of my left-hand side. Had he forced me to sit any closer to the window I would have been outside. His sheer bulk allowed me arm room that a thalidomide baby would have found inadequate. Having fully engulfed his own seat and half of mine, he promptly dozed off, legs spread so wide that he must surely have testicles the size of watermelons. His right knee so firmly touched my left knee that it caused me to wonder if this was his fetish: pretend to be asleep and rub innocuous limbs against other commuters.

I was unable, try as I might, to take up less room. With severe cramp in my legs, I also experienced extreme muscle ache in my left arm, as I was forced to hold it in a painful, slightly elevated and unnatural position – whereas normally I would have rested it. It seemed inappropriate to balance my wrist on his bald head, the only other option which presented itself.

Squashed between the two armrests digging into my pelvis, causing untold pain in my lower back, I tried to alleviate the multitude of aches by sitting up straighter. Instead, my foot found itself atop a crushed drinks can left on the floor by some previous detainee of this Guantanamo Bus.

All of this was accompanied, naturally, by somebody – most likely the driver – blasting the most horrendous music, which offended my ears when it was Madonna, and compounded my new idea of Hell when the Christmas songs started.

Crusher awoke from his dozing, and fast discovered that he knew the people in the seat behind us. Friends Reunited lives. Suddenly I expected an appearance from Cilla Black, yelling “Surprise Surprise!” or, worse, Esther Rantzen giving them both a little gold heart like she used to do on – well, I think her reunion show was probably called Hearts Of Gold, and I refuse to demean myself by checking. It is bad enough that these things are still in my consciousness two decades after they last aired.

Thankfully – being grateful for small mercies – this conversational development quickly subsided, and I was permitted to hear Wham’s tinny radio rendition of “Last Christmas I gave you a shotgun and a single cartridge,” which I would actually have enjoyed listening to if those were the real lyrics.

It was around this point that I engaged with Crusher, offering to remove my leg with a saw if he could find me one. He declined, which was damned decent of him, but neither did it inspire him to close his legs any or encroach less on my breathing room. With his right elbow lodged hard against my left elbow, I accepted it was stalemate.

With that impasse reached, I can detail my endeavours to obtain any sort of information from Virgin Trains verified Twitter account. Previously quite helpful, you shut up shop fast.

Keep in mind, please, that the sole purpose of my trip was to see my favourite band play their first UK show in a year. They have a new album full of songs I have never heard live, with new band members added to the line-up, playing instruments I have never seen (or heard) them use the past twenty-eight times. My only concern, at this point, was if I would get there in time to see anything other than the encore.

What I most wanted to know was the anticipated journey time. My train had been due to arrive about 18:00, giving me plenty of time to find my hotel in the dark, wet night. I needed to freshen up – a term I have never used in my life prior to this very sentence – then change, before attempting to locate the venue. I was confident I could find my way around but, not being Challenge Anneka, a strict deadline was an unnecessary pressure. I can send you the screengrabs, but here is the gist of this further miscommunication:

“Can someone – perhaps @virgintrains – check how long it’ll take a coach from Glasgow Central to reach Preston?”
“It will be a coach between Preston and Lancaster then train onwards, Jordan”

I appreciate you tried the personal touch in that reply, the only minor problem being that the rest of it related in absolutely no way to my question or my predicament.

Would I make this gig? How long should road travel take? I would have checked a popular online search engine’s maps app, only I am fast running out of my data allowance and – not being a Virgin train – this bus has no wi-fi facilities. Understandably, due to the variables involved, you were wary of committing: “However, they will try and get you there asap”

ASAP.

When is ASAP – is it 19:00? 23:00? Tuesday? January? I wanted a ballpark figure, and “ASAP” was not good enough – especially not when I had explained that I was on a tight and specific schedule. Instead, my tweeted requests for a figure, or for a “rough idea” were completely ignored. Like I said, you are welcome to screengrabs of all this, I saved it all.

Meanwhile, let us return to Crusher. At 18:34 – a hundred-and-forty minutes in – he finally swivelled in his seat, moving his legs out into the aisle. The joy of moving and stretching my own leg – a sensation I had nearly forgotten in the interim – was tempered only by how cold it felt once he ceased behaving like a human blanket. We continued on.

Seven P.M. came and went, the venue doors now opened for entry while I stared into pitch black motorway and wondered where I was, other than Sartre’s vision of Hell. I did not yet mention the stifling stench of feet, farts, and body odour which permeated our transport, as did the excremental fumes from the on-board cesspit – and added to by the further olfactory assault of crisps and similarly odoriferous foods. Three hours had passed, and the reek of sandwiches and ass gas had become unbearable. I would have opened a window but, coaches being how they are, it would have required a hammer. Having earlier established that there was no saw in the immediate vicinity, the likelihood of finding a hammer nearby appeared slight.

At 19:11 – and you will sense that I jotted notes for this complaint as I went – Crusher rose and made his way to the toilet. It occurred to me that a slow trickle of piss could have worked its way down, backing up as it filled his groin to capacity, and that that may explain why his legs were forced apart at the tops of the thighs. The poor man must have inflated, his legs widening as an alternative to his merely exploding in a stagnant burst of yellow spray.

There was no real time to note improvement, on his return, as we arrived in Preston at 19:32 – a mere ninety-seven minutes late. I checked with the driver that his arrival time will be logged, should you wish to verify it. I could not get off that bus fast enough. I have never had a good experience going by coach, and if I wanted to book a coach I would have done so.

Naturally, arriving so far behind schedule left me no time to eat. I raced for the hotel as quickly as I was able, trying to walk off the cramp that had built up. By the time I reached the venue it was gone 20:30 and with it the chance to see support bands and savour the atmosphere coming together.

I did manage to see the full set that, as a longtime fan and friend of the band, had been so important to me. However, it was entirely down to luck and you did nothing to ease my frustrations or worries.

I am annoyed at the shambolic handling of the coach boarding in Glasgow, the absence of informed staff (and of staff, full stop, out by the buses), and the further hold up caused by people being directed incorrectly.

I am disappointed that your once-helpful Twitter staff refused, point blank, to even attempt to provide the information I specifically requested, despite being told the reasons for it. Furthermore, they did nothing short of ignore my queries.

I am worried that you will fail me again. I am due to travel to London on Sunday, and – being considerably further away – there is no way a replacement bus will get me there in anything resembling a timely manner.

This entire experience was wholly unsatisfactory and unpleasant. In addition to the full refund I expect on my tickets, I think you should be reimbursing me for the gig ticket, given I missed all but one (thankfully THE) band, and compensating me for the utter discomfort which I have tried to document fully above.

I await your response.

Here is their response. My reply to it is here.

Virgin letter - replyAbove: Their wholly uninspiring stock reply. Read my response to it (and them) here.

 

 


A Nice Meal And An Unwanted Free Gift.

I went to a local restaurant last week, and managed to get a skelf (depending on your location, also known as a splinter, spelk, or sliver) in the bend of my thumb. It came from the chair I was sitting on, but as my working life has involved moving lots of timber I was unphased. I have had and removed dozens of skelfs. This being the case, I sent the establishment a very tongue-in-cheek email about it – as always, for my own amusement. I half thought they might offer me a voucher of some kind, but instead they have neglected to reply.

Here is the letter I wrote:

I was in for a family meal on Tuesday night (9th September), and we were seated at tables opposite a banquette. At one point, in order to facilitate the duties of our waitress, I reached down to grasp my chair in order to move it forward – allowing her access between the chair backs and the wall.

Unfortunately, during this process of intended helpfulness, I felt a sharp pain in my right thumb. Without doubt, I got a deep skelf from your furniture. It went straight into the interphalangeal joint, a term I had to look up because hand anatomy is not my speciality, and I did not mention it at the time as I thought I had managed to successfully remove it.

On Wednesday, with the swelling that accompanied the wound turning septic, I was able to extract the remainder of the skelf – a splinter of several millimetres length.

As this small piece of wood is technically your property, I write to ask if you would like me to return it. I kind of hope not, since it seemed a poor souvenir of a nice evening and I binned it, before realising that it did not really belong to me. I can, however, send you a photo of the skelf (both embedded and removed) if this will enable you to have a replica made and reattached to the seat.

Let me know if this is of interest to you, and please accept my apologies for not being able to return the original.

Tomorrow is Thursday, and I am hopeful that the swelling (due to its location) will go down, allowing me to fully bend my thumb without discomfort once more. I trust the chair has exhibited no serious ill-effects.

skelf in thumb

Update: The restaurant never did respond, other than to add my email address to their mailing list. When I posted this on their Facebook, it was quickly deleted. I have not been back.


There’s No Business Like Shoe Business.

I am staying in a Travelodge this week, as I am working away from home.

Many of you will be familiar with their concept of uniform, basic hotel rooms. I arrived on Sunday night, unpacking properly as I am here for a few days – up at 5am and back at 8pm. On Tuesday night, I returned and noticed a shoe on the floor. This would be a very boring story if it ended there, and so I will inject an element of mystery. Specifically, the shoe is not mine and was not there previously.

Why has a lone item of footwear appeared in my hotel room in my absence?

It is a question I have posed many of my colleagues, and there have been a handful of suggestions. A couple of references have been made to Cinderella, a comparison that seems to rely heavily on my resemblance to Prince Charming and therefore a theory we can quickly discount. I lack his banality and cannot imagine falling for someone based solely on physical appearance.

lost shoeAbove: My bag (left), my rubbish (right), not my shoe (centre.)

The possible calling-card of a serial killer, I was extremely wary of sliding back the shower curtain this morning in case I found a body lying in the bath. Thankfully my fear was unfounded. It did, admittedly, come as some relief to find that the shoe was still there when I woke up. Had it disappeared overnight, that would have truly freaked me out.

I checked with others staying here, on the off-chance we all received one – a novel, if odd, complimentary gift. Proof of the existence of some kind of shoe-fairy? Or could it be a subtle insult from the hotel staff? In the same way that handing someone a solitary screw can be a veiled way of telling them to “go screw themselves,” the implication here may be that I should “hop it.”

One of our drivers thinks the maid has probably come in, taken her shoes off, and had a short nap on my bed. Waking later than intended, and panicking, she has abandoned one of her shoes in favour of rapidly completing her allotted task. Deciding that she will return for it after finishing her shift, she then realises that she has forgotten which of the identical rooms contains it. The shoe remains for me to find. The obvious flaw, in this conjecture, is that – even with flat shoes – you are still immediately aware of how many are on your feet. Unless this branch has Pippi Longstocking on their roster, any normal person would sense their balance was out as soon as they took a few lopsided steps.

travelodge shoe tweetAbove: A reply signed by New Jersey, who cannot distinguish between wandering and wondering.

Was the shoe already here when I moved in?

I do not believe so. It is under the desk, between my laptop case and some plastic shopping bags I unpacked that first night. Had I noticed the shoe then, I would have placed these items with more care. “I had better not rest this on that shoe,” is the thought I expect to have occurred, and which did not.

“Have you got shoes of your own in the room?” asked my boss.
“Yes, my boots.”
“Were they both there? Maybe she left her shoe and took one of yours, and will be back for the other tomorrow.”
“It seems unlikely that a woman with size two feet has opted to wear one of her own slip-ons and one of my heavy, size ten, calf-high New Rock boots with two-inch soles and metal detailing.”

Nobody has been able to shed any light on it, and not just because it resides in the darkness found under a desk. Tonight, we asked the receptionist if she had any explanation, but she just looked at her own feet and confirmed that she was wearing both of hers. My real concern now is that somebody has planted it, in advance of framing me for something.

The receptionist, incidentally, was accompanying us as my card no longer opens the door. Letting me in, she explained that the battery has died, and it should be fixed tomorrow. Between something materialising and electronics failing, this feels less like a short working holiday and more like the conceited foreshadowing in some B-movie horror film.

[Update: the lock is still broken. They said they would move me to another room, but I am scared the shoe will follow me there. Also, I am about to check out anyway.]

If you have any ideas as to how this occurrence can be rationally explained, I will be very happy to give them due consideration.

travelodge shoe tweet lauraAbove: My wee cousin is one of many people keen to know more about the saga of the shoe.


Fizzing At The Wrong Name.

Dear “Coco-Colo,”

I am aware of, and largely unimpressed by, your inspired but transparent summertime marketing campaign. I am less interested in what forename is printed on the bottle label, and more in the bottle’s content. I only buy your product as an occasional sugary treat, without the intention of establishing an affinity with your packaging. Whichever name happens to be on it is irrelevant, and I have never wasted time selecting any bottle other than that which is closest or looks coldest. Personalised trash is still trash.

Today, by chance, I unpacked my shopping to discover that I had managed to pick up a bottle with, it looked like, my own name on it. Looked like, because closer inspection revealed that you had misspelt it in the most abhorrent fashion.

Coke label

My name is Jordan. It has been Jordan for very nearly thirty-three years, and in that time I have never – never – met anybody older than me with this forename. I understand there are older Jordans in existence, only I have yet to personally encounter any of them. I could have resolved this, admittedly, but it seems a flimsy reason to attend a concert by the New Kids On The Block. Christ knows I would not be going for the music.

You can imagine, I am sure, that living with this name has had its ups and downs. Fortunately, I was at school when the basketball player Michael was cool, and happily accepted the nickname I acquired from the brand of footwear he promoted. Nearing the end of my state education, Katie Price turned up and ruined the name for every adolescent male Jordan left behind me in the playground.

My name has grown in popularity, transcending gender in the process, and there must now be Jordans who have reproduced and brought new Jordans into the world. So, in light of all this, what possessed you to print a label bearing the abomination “Jordon”?

Jordon is not a name, it is a misspelling; a source of constant irritation to me, as dyslexics and idiots throughout my life have insisted on unjustifiably changing the letters which form my name. Usually, this is a small detail – the substitution of the “A” for a second “O” – and a mistake made by recognised incompetents, such as the department of Glasgow City Council responsible for addressing my Council Tax bills.

council tax card

I could retaliate in kind, as I did in opening this letter, but referring to you as Coco-Colo does not work as well when you consider that you are more commonly known by the shortened moniker, “Coke.” Is there some other way to resolve this issue? The “vegetable extracts” are supposed to enhance the beverage, not type (nor mistype) the list of people to whom you wish to sell your product.

I do not expect you to recall vast quantities of poorly-labelled soft drink, but perhaps you could amend the spelling for the next print run. Having accepted that the council will never manage to spell my name correctly, I refuse to believe that a company of your size cannot manage to correct this error.

Contrary to my stated disinterest, I will now keep a look-out for fizzy juice labelled “Jordan”, in the hope that today’s bottle just came from a bad batch and that somebody in the factory was simply not wearing their glasses that day. I concede that it might be quite a nice thing to possess, and am beginning to understand the appeal. I stand by my initial assertion that this marketing campaign, as much as I despise all advertising and marketing, is inspired. I am usually resistant to such tactics.

I look forward to your response.

Jordan.

birth cert redacted

 

 

 

 

 


Passionate Highlander Mash-Ups, and Voting Yes.

I have never owned a set-top box, a freeview box, a digital signal thing, or whatever other gadgets are or were required to watch television in the past ten years. I buy or borrow DVDs to watch, and sometimes download things. The upside is that I save (or rather, do not spend) about £150 a year as I am not required to pay for a licence. The downside is that I miss out on things which all of social media is clearly watching. The most alienated I have felt, in this regard, was last week – when everyone else on the planet watched Germany destroy Brazil seven goals to one.

Similarly, I miss the source of the weekly outpouring of irritation, disbelief, and consternation which Twitter users hash-tag #BBCQT. The BBC’s Question Time seems to incite a lot of indignation, and so in that sense I feel I do not exactly “miss out” on the political discussion show – more that I “do not see” it.

bbcqt highlander

Of course, there are occasional characters who crop up on the panel or in the audience. The eccentric, the ignorant, the misguided, and the plain wrong, all filter through to some degree, thanks in part to their dissemination via YouTube, Vine, and latterly Facebook and Twitter. This week’s unlikely hero, or anti-hero, has been Nigel the pro-union Passionate Highlander. Speaking passionately, thus justifying his own description of himself, he vowed – in the name of Jesus – that we will never change. Change being one of life’s inevitabilities, we will. Even if the No campaign win the referendum (God forbid, since we are now invoking deities), there are aspects to this new political movement which cannot be easily undone. Once you have collectively imagined a better future, it cannot be un-imagined.

That aside, Nigel’s proclamation, “In the name of Jesus,” is phrased identically to a sample used by the band Front 242 in 1988. Their track “Welcome To Paradise” – from the album Front By Front – took various snippets of speech from American Televangelists and incorporated them to great effect. It was relatively easy, as someone for whom that anthem was a gateway into the band’s extensive catalogue, to segue from one to the other. With the slightest of technical know-how, I hastily merged the Question Time footage with the song. With captions quickly typed and assembled, the end result is not the hardest-hitting argument you will hear in favour of Scottish independence. It is, however, light-hearted and true to my strong belief that we will all – Scots and English – benefit from an overwhelming Yes vote.

Here, then, is Nigel the Passionate Highlander accompanied by the Belgian pioneers of Electronic Body Music:

 

 

 

 


Commonwealth Games, National Embarrassment

In a move presumably intended to embarrass Scotland on the world stage, “Team Scotland” have taken undue pride in unveiling athletes’ uniforms which will be worn during the forthcoming Commonwealth Games.

Dressed like extras from the set of Brigadoon, had that mythical village been inhabited entirely by the colour-blind, the cruel and unusual punishment of wearing the new outfits was forced onto a handful of the competitors.

team-scotland-july-6-2014 stvPhoto: STV

“My brief from Team Scotland was to come up with a parade uniform that was high on impact and made a real statement, but also had a contemporary feel,” the designer said, her contemporaries evidently being a tin of shortbread and an outdated notion of a country under Stuart rule. Scotland in 2014 is a progressive, forward-looking nation, on the verge of voting on whether to reclaim its independence and be free from Westminster’s parliament.

This monstrous creation looks like it was accepted by a committee, all of them too polite to reveal their true feelings until – suddenly – they found they had agreed to its production. With luck, they kept the receipt and can return it for a refund.

Inspiration must surely have come on a summer’s day, when the designer vomited into the clear sky and thought, “That’ll work.”

commonwealthuniforms0607 bbcPhoto: BBC

Grimaces, bemusement, and fixed smiles were the order of the day, as illustrated by the photographs above. One can only suppose it is the designer who has come dressed as the Mad Hatter from Alice In Wonderland, since she is the only person who looks genuinely happy to be there. A couple of nurses lead the way, followed by a three-man “stag do” attended by barely-acquainted strangers.

The designer looks inordinately pleased with herself. While it was decent of her to take the blame, it is unfortunate that this public spectacle will be viewed by so many. If there is one positive to be found, it will come at the opening ceremony. With the arrival, on-screen, of several hundred athletes wearing this nonsense, it will be the first time in years that a commentator has had to utter those immortal words, “Please do not adjust your set.”

 

kilt commonwealth feedback

 

 

 


Banking On The Wrong Name – Part 3.

My initial complaint and the first follow-up (part two) can be read by clicking those links.

My complaint handler at HBOS then sent me a letter in the mail, which I realised he probably would. I sent him the following reply today, and got an out-of-office response. He has not yet seen the letter published below. Not only am I interested in his response, I was looking through my correspondence with the company on Twitter and note that I provided them with my mobile number on the first day, alongside a request for them to contact me in writing instead. I will include that information next time, while chastising them appropriately for the lack of communication between departments.

Here is the bulk of the letter he sent me:

HBOS mailed letter

Here is my response:

Dear [staff member’s full name including his middle initials],

Thank you for your letter dated 8th April, which I received in the post today. I expected it, and had correctly anticipated that you would largely reiterate the content of your previous email.

I wrote in the first instance because I wanted you (that is, HBOS) to remove the Esq that you place after my name. It was, to my mind, no big deal – an outdated form of address that I have never personally used, it makes sense to rid myself of it. The timing – why now? – relates to a recent letter you sent which added “Esq Esq” after my name. Verging on the ridiculous, I decided to address the issue before I find myself in a roughly similar situation to Catch-22’s Major Major Major Major.

I imagined, evidently wrongly, that putting my very simple brief in writing would enable you to fix the problem swiftly, and all I wanted in reply was a note essentially saying “done.”

Instead, here we are – five emails, a dozen-and-a-half Tweets, and one Royal Mail-delivered communication later – and still no resolution. Furthermore, you have given me immense cause for concern on two counts. Firstly, as you are unable (you said) to locate either of the accounts I hold with you and, secondly, because you appear to have lost my phone number.

Please check again, my mobile number ends [last three digits redacted] and the Bank of Scotland has contacted me using it, in relation to my online banking approximately eighteen months ago. Your assertion that the number you have for me “is not up to date” does not wash: I was given that number when I took out my first phone contract, with Genie, in or around October 2001.

Genie was taken over by BT Cellnet, who became O2, now owned by Telefonica. It is how businesses operate, except that unlike this Lloyds Halifax Bank Of Scotland nonsense they managed to keep hold of my one and only contact number in the process. So, again, given that I have had precisely the same phone number for twelve-and-a-half years, please comb your records once more.

I hold a Current Account with you, which I opened within the last three years. I also have a Savings Account which was opened for me sometime in the early 1980s, when I was too young to foresee the hassle it would cause me thirty years later. You explicitly stated that you are “unable to locate an account in [my] name to make the appropriate amendments.”

I do not know what to say, except “try harder.”

I have two accounts, and one name. I have signed my name to every email in an attempt to make it easier for you. Perhaps a search for correspondence sent this month to recipients marked “Esq Esq” will bring it up? There are very few people whose name matches mine – especially not when my middle initials are included. There should be remarkably few people banking with you in the name Jordan (or J.) R.A. Mills.

I only wish I had the ingenuity of Alice Cooper, whose bank tried to find his account for him. “We have twenty Alice Coopers” they said, when the results were returned. He had the intelligence, grace, and wit to politely reply “Yeah, mine will be the ‘Mister’.”

A distinguishing name ought to be most useful at this juncture. If you will trust the medium of email then I can send you my account numbers and sortcodes across, but it worries me greatly that you cannot find them of your own accord.

“Feel free to call me with the information”, your letter cheerfully offers.

Once again, I am forced to state that I do not really wish to discuss this over the phone – it is not terribly convenient for me – yet you keep insisting it is the only way forward. Are you so bored or lonely in your office that you just wish to chat? Or maybe you read these letters and feel you have found a kindred spirit? Granted, we both sign ourselves with a pair of middle initials, there is that connection. However, I try to make my writing entertaining to read, instead of blindly repeating the company line in copied-and-pasted paragraphs while singularly failing to locate vital customer particulars.

I know my tone is cheeky, increasingly so, but I refer you to my original complaint. I was hopeful you would quickly make the necessary changes, and instead you seem to have misplaced some extremely important personal details. Not only have we reached an apparent impasse, but you have revealed negligence that borders on corporate incompetence. You will be aware of Data Protection legislation, and know that the loss or careless handling of secure  files would constitute a clear breach of the law. Find my accounts, and my number, and then you can phone me. Or, perhaps just quietly make the requested alterations as per my initial enquiry – no telephone conversation required.

I await your response with more interest than you pay on either of the accounts you have mislaid.

Yours,

Jordan R.A. Mills

(or, using the unwanted alter ego you bestowed upon me, Mr J R Mills Esq Esq)

HBOS number sent DM


Banking On The Wrong Name – Part 2.

After sending a complaint to the Bank Of Scotland, a digital receipt arrived in my inbox. The next two emails were short and professional, and I will relay only the relevant information prior to reproducing the additional complaint it led me to write.

At first I was hopeful, noting of my new contact: “As you sign yourself with two middle initials, and given part of the nature of my complaint, I expect you to be broadly sympathetic. However, I have stated (via the HBOS Twitter account) that I would prefer to be contacted in writing, and not discuss this over the telephone. They tell me they have passed this request on.”

It was nearly 5pm on a Monday, and an automated out-of-office reply arrived immediately. This stated that the complaint handler would be away until 9am that same Monday – a clear anomaly. I consider that to be fuel for the fire. Despite allegedly being away from his employment, he then replied personally:

“I fully appreciate your express wishes to respond to and resolve the complaint you’ve raised however, I’m unable to locate an account in your name to make the appropriate amendments. We do not recognise corresponding by email about account specific information as safe and secure.  As you have not provided a valid telephone number to contact you and the only number which I can find for you indicates a different geographical location, I am unable to safely speak with you.”

HBOS out of office

Gloves off, let’s go.

Hi [name],

Your Twitter team have already assured me that it will be possible to have this matter resolved in writing. If you look at how you addressed me in the letter to which I refer, then perhaps that will help you locate my account?

I hold two accounts, both under variations of my name chosen by your company and both suffixed unnecessarily as detailed in the missive to which you are responding.

I am uncertain as to why you are writing from a Lloyds TSB address, when my complaint is with HBOS. If all four of these banks are united then I begin to understand the recent political phrase “all in it together.”

If I recall correctly, HBOS has called me to confirm details in the past, with regards to my online banking. Somewhere, alongside the two accounts you are unable to find, you have my number on file. It gives me no faith in your company to learn that both of my accounts are invisible to you, and I am starting to realise why the man in the branch who set up my second account said it would be nearly impossible to amend my name in your records. You do not appear able to adequately check said records, let alone update them.

I note that the names on my two cards differ slightly, and both also differ from the way you address communications to me about those accounts. Unfortunately, as you “do not recognise corresponding by email about account specific information as safe and secure”, I am unable to reveal what any of these names are. Suffice to say they are variations on a theme. Personally, I always sign my name the same way – in the evidently mistaken belief that it might avoid confusion.

My phone number is in your system, and I am not responsible if you feel it is playing hide-and-seek with you. I am worried knowing that I have entrusted my money to you, if you cannot safely look after digits that do not even have financial value. Furthermore, I am questioning why you have written from a Lloyds email address. You may be quite correct when you say this is an untrustworthy medium.

Although I have replied with my tongue slightly in my cheek, be advised that it is only slightly.

Incidentally, my previous reply was met with an automated Out Of Office reply which stated that you will return to the office on Monday 7th April at 09:00 – if you are returning in the morning before you have left, then I envy your mastery of time travel.

Yours,

Jordan R.A. Mills*

*Here’s a clue, both of my accounts contain some or all of these letters. My phone number is in there somewhere. Good luck.

He wrote back by post, and I have replied to that too. Read it here.

HBOS Lloyds TSB Tweet


Life – It’s A Gas, Or Smells That Way At Least.

I write occasionally about my friend who lives next door to me. We are very close, a fact physically represented by our respective front doors being only a metre apart. People have noted that we act like a married couple, and there is some merit to that – we love each other, we argue regularly, and there is no sex. When I asked if she was happy with that statement she said, “No, I hate you,” which I think sums it up well.

She popped in to see me today, and when she went home she thought she could smell gas in her hall. I crossed over our thresholds to check, initially not picking up on it. Eventually the odour hit me, and she insisted that we call the emergency helpline. I read the number off her meter, she dialled and then handed me the phone. I explained the issue to the operator, who asked me a series of basic questions before agreeing to send an engineer out. She provided safety instructions, and I listened as I walked from the living room into the bathroom – where the meter is located.

I obeyed the woman’s command, cutting the supply by giving the handle on the pipe a quarter-turn. As I pulled it from the vertical to the horizontal, my friend appeared in the hallway before me. “Don’t turn on any lights or use any switches” the call handler said into my ear, at the precise second when my friend switched the overhead light on. Timing, as they say, is everything. As I tried in vain to prevent the action, by making a cut-throat gesture, she instinctively and immediately turned the light off again.

I went home, and the gas van arrived quickly. The way it was reported on Facebook, “Scottish Gas guys arrived, checked my gas meter and said: “Girl. Glad you phoned us, cos you would probably die overnight from gas poisoning!! There was a serious gas leak.”

Gas Panic Texts

She texted me to say they were changing the meter, adding “that’s why I couldn’t breathe properly and my stomach hurt for a couple of days.” This was news to me, and I remembered that there is a carbon monoxide detector in the bedroom beside her boiler. I had looked at the boiler when I went in, but neglected to check the alarm. It is a safety device I have meant to buy for my own flat, and never quite got round to.

“Did the gas alarm in your bedroom not go off?” I asked.

She checked it. “The light changes from green to red. I had red for a few days, but I ignored that.”

Sometimes she terrifies me. She elaborated “I thought it must be like that,” adding further “but I was being sick every day, and my stomach hurt at night, and the breathing difficulties – now I know why!”

We had spoken today about her possibly leaving Glasgow. I am in no way ready for her to permanently leave the world.

Gas Panic 1

The consensus online is that gas is dodgy, and any hint of a smell should be investigated and reported. This evening, especially, I am happy that she insisted on notifying the authority. Once the seriousness had passed, humour took over. One of my comedy acquaintances publicly admired her “strive for efficiency” in trying to blow the whole street up, and not just me.

She replied – in a way you would understand if you knew her – by saying that she enjoys group sex, and group death too. This incident happened to coincide with the gas main being replaced over the road, and it was nearly the perfect crime – they would have blamed the workmen.

Gas Panic FBAbove: I have redacted the name of our street.

Tonight, online, I bought a carbon monoxide detector and two smoke alarms. I like to feel I have learned something from this experience, besides having my nerves shaken when I read the Gas Safe information about poisoning symptoms and fatalities. It is disconcerting to know that someone I care so deeply about has been breathing in toxic fumes for a few days.

She always claims to be unlucky, and I will now forever disagree. Borrowing her trademark phrase of “face>desk”, the only real method of taking the edge off was to make further light of the situation. There is no other way. I doubt we were poised to annihilate ourselves in an explosion, but it is generally best to avoid inhaling noxious vapours for any length of time. At the risk of coming across all Michael Buerk in the 1990s emergency re-enactment series 999, it does not cost much to protect yourself.

Gas Panic 2

 

 

 

 


A Spoiler I Never Saw Coming.

** This post contains spoilers to films that are a decade old, or more. **

I had no interest in watching the film Saw, released in 2004 and easily ignored in the years since. I am no fan of horror films, finding them to be tedious viewing. With ridiculous premises, nonsensical plots, awful dialogue, and an obnoxious amount of screaming, shouting, and shrieking, I am content to watch almost anything else instead. Despite the work it provides to the many talented prosthetics and special effects crews out there, I am especially keen to avoid the whole gore/torture genre that has arisen.

I do watch the occasional horror, hoping it will not bore me for its duration. Largely, the ones I enjoy are tongue-in-cheek and full of dark humour. An early job after I graduated saw me working on a then-innovative feature, its villains the undead German soldiers of World War Two. A short while later, I was loading-in gear for my favourite band, ahead of their concert that night. Having worked for and with them a few times, their singer enquired as to what I had been up to since he had last seen me at their previous gig. I happily told him:

“I’ve been working on a film about Nazi Zombies. What could be cooler than Nazi Zombies?!”

He looked at me and, deapan, asked “Have you ever seen the film Zombie Strippers?”

zombie_strippers02Above: Silly fun, as you would expect from the title.

I like Outpost, the former of those two, because so much of the menace is hidden in the darkness. It comes across more atmospheric thriller than gory horror, the threat as much in the mind of the audience as visible on screen. Zombie Strippers, the plot blatant from its title, is enjoyably stupid, very entertaining and contains some pointed satire. Robert Englund, the instantly recognisable anti-hero in a series of iconic films I have never watched, comes across brilliantly as the sleazy manager looking out for himself. As he reveals an arsenal of guns and displays his National Rifle Association membership card, he defiantly defends his incompetence with the weapons: “Hey, the law says I can own them, not that I have to know how to use them.

A good friend of mine loves horrors, and lives close enough that we have had a fair few film nights together. I introduced her to things I love and which I figured she might like, like Clue and Das Experiment, and in return she showed me the new Evil Dead and the second Human Centipede. I had not seen the original, as you will no doubt have guessed, but found the sequel comparatively watchable. Centred around a man so obsessed with the original film that he attempts to recreate it, there was a certain logic to it, at least. I find that lacking in a lot of horror, which contributes to my disinterest in it.

spoiler_alert

It is this same friend who adores Saw, and who finally convinced me to watch it with her. I held off for years because of the “torture-porn” tag that the franchise gained, picking up somewhere along the route that a character cuts off his own foot. I had no desire to witness that, staged as I knew it to be. However, I was eventually swayed by her enthusiasm and by my discovery that it stars Cary Elwes. He will always be, to my mind, the Lincoln green-clad hero who proclaimed “unlike some other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent.” When I first rented the VHS of Robin Hood: Men In Tights I watched it thirteen times in two days, and many more times after that. I can still quote vast amounts of it, a seminal movie in the development of my sense of humour.

My friend and I sat down together to watch Saw, ten years after its cinematic release and after a full year of her regularly telling me to check it out. The opening scene shows two men chained separately in a large industrial bathroom. A corpse lies on the floor between them. My friend helpfully explained “You think he’s dead, but he’s not. At the end he gets up and you find out he did it all.”

“Are you joking?”

“No. Sorry.”

It took me so long to be coaxed into watching it, and within a minute of it starting she had announced the ending. I was completely nonplussed, a feeling compounded by the recollection of our shared viewing of The Sixth Sense. That is a film with an infamous twist, and I had kept my mouth shut throughout – even when she asked me directly.

“Is he dead?”

“We’ll find out.”

“Oh my god, he was dead the whole time,” she exclaimed at the appropriate juncture.

“I know.”

She punched my arm, momentarily annoyed. “No! You were surprised too!”

In that instance I was not surprised, given that it was my DVD of it that we watched and given how parodied it has been in the intervening years. I will admit to being surprised at the spoiler she casually let slip during Saw though, inasmuch as it was entirely unexpected and I had no idea what to do with that information. I did not foresee that she would instantly ruin the very film she was desperate for me to watch.

Nevertheless, I will have my revenge. She loves Star Wars, but one day I will make her watch Psycho. Or The Usual Suspects. Or Planet Of The Apes. Or The Crying Game. Or Soylent Green. Or – well, you see what I am implying.

bible spoiler

 

 

 


Banking On The Wrong Name – Part 1.

Bank of Scotland Esquire esquire, missing middle initialAbove: Correspondence received, click to see it in more detail.

Dear Bank of Scotland,

Or, to address you in the same manner you addressed your latest letter to me,

Dear Bank o Scotland outdated suffix outdated suffix,

I would like you to reconsider how you word my name, and amend your records accordingly. I use both of my middle initials, not the one you assign, with valid reason. I do not require the “Esquire” you add after my name, and adding two of them seems doubly unnecessary. One recognised authority on etiquette suggests you have also used it wrongly, by placing it at the start of a written communication.

My name is Jordan R.A. Mills and, dear god, the abuse I have taken for electing to sign myself that way. Since late primary or early secondary school it has been viewed as an affectation, lending itself to the wonderfully tedious game whereby people guess what those two letters stand for. You can imagine, I am sure, that there were never any flattering or complimentary suggestions. It took me a regrettably long time to realise that the best and most effective way to shut that down was to simply tell the truth; that it is not immediately apparent that I sign my middle initials as they stand for the forenames of my two grandfathers – neither of whom lived to see me born. Now who is the “rotten arsehole”?

There are three ways people write this moniker for me – some take my lead and copy it verbatim, some disregard both initials, and – most annoyingly – some abandon only one of them. When I was occasionally performing stand-up comedy, and with reference to the second two options above, I made this observation:

“I’ve never understood why people find it acceptable to just jettison a key component of my name.

I’d never dream of doing that to someone, just going ‘You know what? I was going to write his name, but Jesus I can’t be bothered so I’ll leave a couple of letters out.’ Whatever time that might save. Yet it happens often.

Thankfully the birth registrar and the passport office, whatever their flaws, aren’t that desperately lazy. So it appears to be my legally documented name. If I’ve made the effort, and taken the twenty-odd years of abuse for signing them, there’s probably a good reason for their inclusion.

It also annoys me on automated bank forms and the like, where it says ‘middle initial’ and only lets you enter one character.
‘I’ve got two middle initials.’
Well, in that case, please decide which of the two dead grandfathers you never met should have their existence acknowledged in our records – one, or neither.

If neither had existed I wouldn’t be here. If there was only one I’d just be half the man I am today.”

This will explain, I hope, why your letter addressed to “Mr J R Mills” has irked me to the extent that I am contacting you.

Furthermore, for reasons that lie somewhere in the early or mid 1980s when my maternal grandmother opened this Halifax Savings Account for me, you have always added an “Esq” after my name. I have never been entirely sure why, and when I opened my current account a couple of years ago I was informed that it would now be difficult to remove from your systems.

I accepted this, it being no great shakes despite you being the only company in my experience to ever append it. Attention to detail is important, though, and I find it excessive that you used it twice in succession. Perhaps you were trying to butter me up by calling me “Mr J R Mills Esq Esq”, or maybe it was a piss-take by your admin staff – taking umbrage at the first Esq and sarcastically adding a second? Either way, I am happy for you to drop both of them in future. I have no requirement to be titled in such a way.

Incidentally, while researching (a loose term I use to cover a look on the internet powered by a world-famous search engine) the correct application of Esq, I found a BBC article on the subject. To quote directly from it:

“Esquire is more formal than Mr, and only used in written correspondence,” says Charles Kidd, editor of Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage. “It’s more old fashioned, and you would only use it on an envelope.”

The article continues with an example which, adapted to this situation, clarifies: the envelope would be addressed to “Jordan R.A. Mills, Esq” but the invitation card itself would read “Mr Jordan R.A. Mills”.

At least, that is my interpretation of it. Some other sites question the abbreviating of full names to mere letters when the Esq suffix is added. They agree, however, that Mr and Esq should not be used in conjunction.

The upshot of all of this is, I have finally decided to try and have your records altered. The change-of-name page on your website came up as “unavailable” when I tried to access it this afternoon. I found another way to do it once logged into my online banking, and read through the instructions. Unfortunately, among the list of acceptable forms of identification, you do not list a passport. My passport is the only recognisable proof that I have to hand. Hence this letter.

Please remove the Esq suffix from my name, it has been there forever and there really is no need for it. I am content to be a plain old “Mr.”

As for the rest of my name, please add my second initial (preferable) or remove the existing one. As stated, I do not feel it is in your jurisdiction to acknowledge or deny the existence of half of my male antecedents.

Your cooperation in this matter is appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

Jordan R.A. Mills

Bank of Scotland Tweets


Baguette Out And Don’t Come Back.

This is a light-hearted letter of complaint. Read the reply I received here.

Dear [national supermarket chain],

I have previously complained about the sandwich department of my local store, a letter which I published (along with your response) on my blog and which you retweeted. It was read over a thousand times on the back of that. In contrast, when I wrote about magician Paul Daniels cutting my head off he retweeted it and it received only a hundred or so views. Granted, it is no longer the 1980s and your name is undoubtedly now more recognisable than his, to many. You may remember the missive in question, and it remains one of the most popular things I have ever written – barring the possible documentation of a future attempt at my live on-stage decapitation by Dynamo.

Today, I was feeling a little peckish, and lazy, and browsed the selection of freshly-made sandwiches on offer at your store. I decided to opt for the age-old classic combination of beef and onion, served on a baguette and thus a handy, substantial meal fit for a king. To be clear, I am not a king and neither do I have kingly aspirations. I do, however, have an appetite and the usual skeletal and biological means of sating it.

I purchased the sandwich in the standard manner, carrying it back to my home as it was unable to walk there of its own accord, being a sandwich. I put the rest of my shopping away – I had picked up a few other items, the goal of my trip not being the sole acquisition of some ready-made lunch – and prepared to devour the delicious feast you had carefully hand-prepared. Alas, upon removing it from the protective paper wrapper I realised that something seemed fishy. Specifically, it smelled fishy, and before I took a bite I used my years of experience to my advantage. I removed the top portion of the bread, and was dismayed to find, inside, that somebody had sneakily stolen the beef and onion filling and replaced it entirely with tuna and cucumber.

Beef tuna baguetteAbove: Proof, if proof be need be.

I considered the events of the recent past. Nobody had tampered with the sandwich in my home, as I live alone (hence having time to write letters like these). I had definitely not switched the contents myself, so that ruled me out of my enquiries. Nobody had approached me walking between the shop and my house, so it seemed unlikely that the subterfuge had occurred on the journey. That meant the culprit must surely be located in the branch itself. The cashier – I believe in giving my custom to humans and not to machines, so never use the self-service checkouts that too many supermarket chains now provide – she had an honest face and I am inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. The answer – the guilt – must surely lie with whoever made and/or labelled the product. It would not be the first time.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought an alleged “corned beef slice” which, once my teeth were in it (I mean I bit into it, I didn’t take them out and add them to the mixture inside), revealed itself to be some kind of spiced steak pastry. It was not unpleasant, but it was also not what I thought I was buying. On that occasion I did not complain, admittedly. Anyone who thinks they are buying corned beef and who instead receives steak has, in the local vernacular, won a watch. At least you managed to mix up two types of meat from the same animal. Today’s mistake was just farcical.

It raises a few concerns, which I hope you will take the time to address and answer fully. This is very important to me, as a regular customer of several years standing. Obviously I am standing (or walking) when I am in your branches, and not rolling along the aisles on my sides like a child going down a hill in a park. That would be silly and I daresay your staff would politely ask that I stop. I mean, as you will have inferred, that I have given you a lot of money over a long period of time. My questions are valid and require answers.

So, regarding this tuna and cucumber baguette which was masquerading as a far nicer beef and onion one:

– Was this an ill-timed April Fools prank? If so, the joke is on you because I bought it on the 2nd of April.

– Is your beef dolphin-friendly?

– Did you deliberately substitute tuna for beef due to worries about BSE or its human equivalent CJD? If so, in future I would rather take my chances and not have that decision made for me. You can make my sandwiches, but not my decisions.

– Were you lamenting the passing of the horsemeat scandal, and thinking that you could engineer a tuna fish scandal under the misguided belief that “no publicity is bad publicity”? I am not falling for your ruse, if so. It was blatantly tuna fish. At least the horsemeat suppliers tried to hide the fact.

– Are you participating in some programme of genetic modification which involves the breeding of underwater cattle? Do you farm tuna fish on land, putting them out to pasture and letting them graze freely? Is this how the mix-up has occurred?

As a major retailer, you will be well-versed in The Sale Of Goods Act 1979 (as amended). This clearly states that, legally, items sold must be “as described” – you are evidently in breach of this statute. I think this incident may also be covered by the Misrepresentation Act 1967, whether the misrepresentation was fraudulent, negligent, or innocent. That said, I am not a lawyer. I am just an average guy who enjoys the occasional sandwich and who is sometimes too lackadaisical to make his own.

When I do make my own sandwiches, you can be certain that there is never – never, mind you – tuna fish in them. The only fish I ever eat is battered, although I don’t think it comes out the sea that way. I can’t say, I’m no fisherman.

Having established that I am neither a lawyer nor a fisherman, I am also not a binman. This comes as some relief to me at the present time, as that sandwich is going to start reeking soon. It went straight in the refuse, uneaten. Nice try, but you never got me.

As I see it, you owe me £2.20 and – more importantly – a series of answers to the questions I have asked. You can reply with your tongue in your cheek – I welcome that – but you can’t sell me hidden tuna fish in your sandwiches. I won’t stand for it, and that’s not an opportunity for you to bring out a chair.

I await your response with interest – quite a high level of interest, but not in the financial sense.

Yours sincerely,

[me]

Beef tuna tweetsAbove: Where the fun started.

 

 

 

 

 

 


When Gas Is Better Than Water.

Two weeks ago, a couple of guys from the water board chapped my door and asked me to check if my cold water was running.

There has been an issue with the pressure in my tenement, and they were trying to ascertain – not for the first time – if the boundary stopcock outside the close entrance was affecting supply when they turned it. On that occasion, it was not. I still had water coming from my taps – in truth, the best place to have water coming from when it is in your home.

The guys thanked me and, as I left some minutes later to go about my day’s business, I passed them spraypainting around the metal plate on the ground outside. I thought no more about it.

On the other side of the street, a digging crew has appeared recently and begun laying a new gas main. I surmise it to be a gas job on account of the size and length of trench they have dug, and due to the large yellow plastic piping that is on site. Their workspace is cordoned off using orange and white striped barriers. Last week, an unmarked white works van pulled up outside my front window and offloaded half a dozen blue plastic barriers and a couple of temporary traffic signs. I was curious to know what was going on, having received no notification of work to be carried out in the vicinity.

I presumed it to be preparation by Scottish Water, given that they had marked the ground, due to the different type of barrier and the quantity left, and because the crew working over the road are – well, working over the road. It made no sense for them to mark out a second site while tied up with the first, the replacement of the main clearly some way from being completed.

If water maintenance was required, it would mean erecting barriers that would severely impede access into this building. If I was also going to lose my supply, I would like to know when and for how long, which I do not think is an unreasonable request. Shortly after the equipment was delivered, I called Scottish Water.

“Are you about to dig up the pavement right outside the front door?”

The girl checked her computer. “No, the only work in that street is for gas. Phone the Scottish Gas Network.”

I thanked her and called them.

“Are you about to dig up the pavement right outside the front door?”

“No, that’s not us, we’re working over the road. Try Scottish Water.”

I called Scottish Water a second time. I explained, again, why I initially thought it was them and why my call to the Gas Network confirmed my suspicions. The girl this time checked another system available to her.

“Oh yeah, it is us.”

“Am I going to lose my water supply, and if so, when?”

“We usually put letters through before we start work.”

“And you usually don’t drop barriers at a site until you’re ready to start work.”

“I’ll see if someone can phone you back.”

“Try that, but I’m not convinced they’ll be able to work the buttons.”

I posted the above summation of two hours of conversations onto social media. A friend revealed she works for the water company, and informed me that these days many works can be done without switching the water off. When I gave her more detail she provided an in-depth explanation. I was grateful for that, because Scottish Water never did return my call. The pavement was dug up the next day, after I had gone out, the disruption not affecting me personally as the job was done by the time I came home. Considering they were replacing a communication pipe, their own communication was sorely lacking.

Full credit to the Scottish Gas Network though. They had an engineer contact me promptly, from an unblocked mobile number, to say that the barriers were not theirs but that they would be working on my side of the street at a later date. On my side it will only be a partial replacement, and he did not have details to hand about whether that will involve loss of service. As promised, he did then check the blueprints the next morning and left me a voicemail (and his direct contact number to field any questions) to say that this future work will not involve my tenement or the two east of it.

It is not difficult, in this technological age, to share information effectively or communicate easily. Too many large corporations have yet to master it.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Life Is Absurd. So Is Death.

I maintain that life is absurd, and this is never better demonstrated than when it comes to death.

A one-time colleague of mine died recently. We were not close, despite working reasonably closely on a short project nine or ten years ago, yet – unlike some others I have worked with before and since – he was memorable. When I read of his death I recognised his name immediately and could instantly picture his face. Given that I freelance and meet a lot of people, the same is not true of everybody I have worked with.

I was sorry to read of his passing, always figuring that our paths would cross again some day – socially, if not professionally. Instead, I am left with a memory of that project which has been blurred by time and events that have happened since. While it did not seem appropriate to share my faint half-recollections alongside the tributes being paid on his Facebook page, I went through and read many of them. The public outpouring of love and affection was touching.

What struck me, generally speaking, is this: it seems really sad that you have to die before most people are prepared to reveal the extent of their love for you.

The old adage is true, everyone loves you when you are dead. To my mind that appears a little late to express it. If someone matters that much to you, is it not worth letting them know while they can fully appreciate it?

This world makes no sense. At the risk of being facetious while trying to illustrate this point, next time I am feeling low I might kill myself, just so people say nice things about me.

 


When Friendly Fire Is Too Friendly.

I think my favourite voicemail was received, from a friend, in December 2006. The friend and I studied together, both of us graduating to careers in theatre, with work and life meaning our paths stopped crossing as often as they once did.

It had been a while since I had heard from her, and I emerged from my place of employment after the matinee performance of a pantomime to see that I had a message to listen to.

“Hi there,” she began in her cheerful and chatty way. “I hope you’re well, I’ve not seen you in ages. Anyway, I’m working at The Kings just now, and – you probably know this already – but Cafe India is on fire, and I know your flat is right next to it, so I just thought I would tell you. But yeah, speak to you soon.”

Cafe India was not just on fire, it burned so thoroughly that it was later demolished. Writing in 2014, the space now houses a supermarket on the ground floor and an entire block of flats above. It was originally a single-storey restaurant, next to a two-storey backpackers hostel, and then next to that was my tenement flat. I had the top floor, my living room being the gable end, and there were huge cracks in the interior walls. Cracks you could have painted Michaelangelo’s “Creation Of Adam” on, had he not chosen the Sistine Chapel as its location.

I was, therefore, a little concerned to hear that the dwelling that housed all of my possessions might be in danger of combusting. With the adjoining structures drastically weakened, I was not convinced that the tenement’s end wall would stay up. I raced home, circling the police cordon as the last of the smoke billowed from the ruin, and walking past the fire engines in attendance to the rear of the property. My flat was above a pub, and as I walked along the back of the building I saw the landlord. I had briefly worked for him, and went over to speak to him. I found out that the entire row had been evacuated, in case the flames spread, but that tenants were finally being granted access again.

I went upstairs, checked everything was in order, and then had to leave immediately in order to be back in time for the evening’s performance. It was not the most relaxing period I have spent between shows.

Full credit to my friend, however. They always say that “in the event of fire, remain calm.” I do not think she could have been any calmer, absolutely exemplifying that as she relayed the news to me via answer-machine. The panic and the relief both faded, but the message was memorable for its unhurried delivery.

I lived in that flat for three years. It was my first residence in Glasgow, and I moved out four months after the fire – having no desire to live next door to the building site it was destined to become. On the plus side, the structure of the walls proved sound, and the building still stands.

Cafe India fire zoomedAbove: Still taken from STV video footage. My annotations.


Dubious Claims To Fame – 23

There have been two versions of the television show “Gladiators” screened in the UK. The first was hugely popular when I was a teenager, and the second was watched by nobody I have ever met. Both versions were based on the original American version which comedian Bill Hicks vilified, seeing it as a way for the government to keep the masses docile.

In the town where I grew up, a large local playing field was the site of an annual fete. I have no idea who organised it, or why, but there was the usual assortment of stalls, tents, displays, and the general family entertainments provided by magicians, jugglers, stilt-walkers and their ilk. The only year I remember going, the main attraction – in ever sense of that word – was a personal appearance by Diane Youdale, known at the time as Jet.

It seems strange in hindsight, that I joined a queue of however many others to catch a glimpse of a “celebrity” who was then a huge hit on national Saturday night television. Despite being a boy of 14 or 15, and thus the perfect age for it, I was one of the few folk I knew who did not have an almighty crush on her. Nevertheless, I stood in line with one or two of my friends, shuffling forward inside the kind of barrier arrangement normally seen in banks, post offices, or at airport security gates. Eventually we made it to the front, to the table at which she sat, and I was rewarded with a signed photograph and a friendly smile.

Thinking in my youth that celebrity meant something, I kept hold of the picture and probably still have it in a box somewhere. It will make a good illustration for this blog when I find it, so check back in five or ten years and see if I have had a clear-out by then. Jet, incidentally, is now a psychotherapist – as well as being the desired host of a proposed Alan Partridge programme.

Alan Partridge Jet

My second encounter with a television Gladiator happened while I was doing some secondary work for my brother-in-law, who is a plumber to trade. He hired me for a few days when he needed a hand, and it emerged that the householder was in the show – which (true to my opening statement) neither of us had watched. She was extremely nice, and in the interest of maintaining her privacy I am not going into much detail. Her given title was Battleaxe., but she could not have been further from the traditional and insulting definition of that word.

While employed to work for her, a few jokes and turns of phrase sprang to mind – some in conversation, some while completing the tasks in hand. Within a couple of days I had a fully-formed routine which would slot straight into my stand-up set, comedy once being a hobby of mine. Grounded in fact, a little exaggeration or embellishment led to one of my favourite “bits” and one which almost always went down well with audiences. I am not a pro-active joke writer, and I take my inspiration where I find it. Given that it was the only time in my life I did any plumbing, it was fortuitous. Timing, as they say, is everything. Below is the material I came up with.

My brother-in-law is a plumber, and we recently did a job for one of TV’s Gladiators. Not one of the cool ones you’d have heard of, but from the new version which nobody’s seen.

So whereas in the old version it was “Can you feel the power of the Gladiators?” this was more “Can you fix the shower, and the radiators.”

I said “Where’s your boiler?” and she said “It’s up there.” I looked, and it was up a Travellator and across some monkeybars.

I said “What’s the access like?” She said “You just have to run the Gauntlet, and get past Wolf.”

John Anderson was there too. He said “Plumber, you will go on my first whistle. Gladiator, you will go on my second whistle.”
I don’t know if you have ever fixed a boiler while you are on a pedestal being hit with a pugil stick, but it’s not easy.

They hire professional athletes and it turned out this girl was an Olympic hammer-thrower, and she holds the record for the longest throw in Scotland.
It was my fucking hammer she threw. “I was using that!”
Took me a week to go and get it back.

I was glad she was a nice lassie though. See when I was at school, if the bullies took your bag off you they’d throw it over a wall or over a fence. If she took your bag off you it’d be [miming spinning a bag round head, like a hammer thrower, then letting go] Fuck ye! Off to France, going “Je voudrais ma bag back, s’il-vous-plait.”

[In reference to the mohawk I had] I reckon if I was a Gladiator they’d call me Nutjob. But then, that’s probably why there’s no Glaswegian Gladiators. “Contender, you will face Nutjob, Heidcase, Jakey, and Bam.”
Four big guys standing there going [arms folded, menacing] “What you wearing padding for, ya fuckin’ poof?”

Of the feedback I received after my various unpaid gigs, that piece was singled out for praise on a few occasions. I like it, and principally I write for myself and to hopefully be entertaining. So, if other people enjoy it I am happy. Here is some old and early footage of me nervously performing it while trying to stay within my strict five-minute spot on stage in Glasgow:

 

I did this material a lot, and eventually I gigged with somebody whose opening line addressed mine. He had written for the second series of the new season. In my defence, I was thirty that year, and cannot be blamed for no longer watching the same programmes that were required viewing when I was half that age. The fact that the most recent version was granted a second series means it must have had an audience. As every comedian knows or learns though, facts are not necessarily funny. Often they are just facts.

I kept my opening line as it was – nobody before or since has ever corrected it, which says as much about the viewing habits of the folk I have played to as it does about anything else.

 

 


Fridge Frolics And Container Confusion.

Working for different film, TV, and theatre production companies, I have been based in various different stores and seen the facilities utilised by some of my colleagues for their personal kit. They vary in location and quality, but a couple of them have rented shipping containers on private land. It looks to be a convenient and reasonably low-cost option – shelved and racked on the inside to accomodate tools, equipment, and other occasionally essential gear.

One memorable job involved a visit to my friend’s lock-up. He has, or had, a place located down a side-street near Glasgow’s River Clyde. The short street was run-down, despite its proximity to the city centre, with the building that ran the length of one side displaying no intact windows. All were broken to some degree or missing entirely, with boards plugging the gaps behind the remaining shards. On the other side, two high Victorian buildings were both boarded up too.

Between these monuments, a connecting single-storey entranceway had been demolished, the rubble still piled high and adorned with illegally-dumped beds, mattresses, and other such junk. Our container was one of a dozen lined along the grounds, accessible by unlocking some Heras perimeter fencing, of the “mesh” type seen around every outdoor music event you have ever been to. Unfortunately, our ingress was prevented by half a dozen fly-tipped fridges. The abandoned white goods littered the kerbside directly in front of the only gate, and inevitably we would have to move them. “Let’s have some fun,” my friend said. “There’s spraypaint in the back. I’m thinking ‘robots’.”

DSC_0225Above: Fridges. “None shall pass.”

We left the cab of our van, and manhandled the appliances into position. We stood them upright, and I dragged one onto its side and shunted it between others. Lying prone, I took rogue circuit boards and pipes and stuffed them into the door – the poor refrigerator’s guts spilling forth.

With our path cleared, the gate was duly opened and we walked the short distance to the line of units. Andy – everybody in this industry is called Paul or Andy, in my experience – proceeded to the first blue cabin in a line of red ones, their vibrant colours long since faded. He jammed the key into the padlock, and it yielded with ease. Removing it, he swung open the first of the double doors.

His store contains shelves and racking, powertools and crates of assorted gear, workspace and associated art implements. None of that was visible. There was only one thing in the container – a silver hatchback. The vehicle comfortably filled the space, and I became acutely aware of my surroundings. It was dark and wet, a Glasgow evening in a deserted and vandalised area – us alone by the ruins of an old building, by a length of shipping crates. Is this not how films start? I joked that I had better not find a dead body inside, shining a torch into the rear window and peering through. In my head, somebody silently appeared behind us, two bullets swiftly ensuring we could never speak of our discovery.

DSC_0230Above: Fridge lying as if slain by his own. “Oppa gangland style.”

It was not much of a discovery, although I must admit I gave the interior only a cursory glance. I had no desire to lay my eyes on a corpse, nor on any conspicuous plastic sheeting. This was close enough to an abandoned docks to put me in mind of a dozen crime film cliches. The greater question, for Andy at least, involved the contents he had expected to see. The key fitted the padlock perfectly, and he had to wonder if his possessions had been stolen, then replaced with a car. It seemed an odd way to commit burglary, and was quickly discounted.

He had only been to this location twice before, and all he could recall was that he had a blue container. Resecuring Box Number One, he tried his key in Box Number Two. This padlock complied as well. In we went, retrieving the items for which we had come, while light-heartedly pondering our abilities to hotwire the motor next door – evidently these two containers had locks that shared an identical cut of key.

With our gear subsequently loaded onto the van and the location secured. we grabbed tins of spraypaint. This would be a fun end to the day. Andy set about giving the fridges eyes and mouths, and I liberally applied red – blood – to the deceased one. I tried to give it crosses for eyes, but the rain lying on it its surface hindered the effort. It was like painting a puddle, if you have ever attempted that or can imagine how ineffective it would be. Nevertheless, a few photographs were taken to preserve the moment, and we quietly disappeared into the night. The killer cannibal robot refrigerators stayed behind, gathered around their fallen victim.

DSC_0234

 

 

 


World War Who? Seeing The Future.

I wrote the following joke today. If you want to be offended by it please check a dictionary first.

The Retardis is a time machine that only goes backwards.

That reminded me that I have not yet seen the feature film World War Z, but I once put it on long enough to watch the end credits.

This may seem a strange decision, to begin at the ending without viewing a single scene or giving the plot any attention. However, the film was partly shot in Glasgow, my home town, and I was curious to see which of my industry friends had worked on it. I noticed something in the cast list which caught my attention.

Filmed in 2011, the parts were cast long in advance of the BBC’s much-anticipated announcement about the actor who would play the new Doctor Who. It was 2013 when, publisihing details of their own output as “news”, it was revealed that Peter Capaldi had gained the role.

Peter Capaldi, the credits told me, had a part in World War Z. With hindsight, the way they worded his appearance as a member of the World Health Organisation seems rather apt.

wwz credit