Having found ourselves in a stranger’s flat, drinking after a night in a club, a good friend and I had an experience that we still recall vividly.
She had been dancing with a guy who removed any fear or intimidation by immediately assuring her that he was gay. Once the club shut, he and his two pals invited her to join them back at his flat in the southside. With the promise of further alcohol, and unwilling to go home for the reasons explained in part one (linked to above, and password-protected until my friend approves its publication), she was enticed into a black hack with them – grabbing my hand and taking me with her.
We sat in this high-rise flat, drinking and chatting, laughing and ignoring the large number of insistent phonecalls that she kept getting. It transpired that her new gay chum was not, as such, gay. This was just the simplest way he had found to get someone to dance with him, in the dancefloor absence of his friends and knowing that the majority of girls would see such a request as an unwanted come-on.
We learned that he had been born a she, addressing his disaffection with the sexual organs of his birth by having his gender clinically reassigned. He was quite nonchalant with this information, given that we had only met an hour or two previously, but my friend and I are both open-minded enough to accept it at face value. Our background is also in art and theatre, creative industries known for their many “alternative lifestyles,” and we had happened to study alongside someone who had undergone the same transition – so very little shocks us in that regard. We are no Richard Littlejohns, sympathising yet simultaneously condemning, being supportive while instigating provisos. Personally, with regard to alternative lifestyles, I would suggest that the only truly “alternative” life-style is death.
I subscribe fully to the mantra posited by Bill Hicks, making his final point. He summed up perfectly how I feel about personal freedom, life choices, censorship, and the nature of offence.
Our host talked us through the physics, or perhaps the biology, of his new appendage. I forget the particulars now, although I think it involved removing skin from other areas and sculpting something which he had a say in the size and shape of. He had a girlfriend, who wasn’t around that evening, and she would assist him with the physical and literal pumping-up of said member, creating something that was rigid enough for her to get pleasure from.
The mechanics of it, explained quite fully and graphically at the time, are now hazy with the passing of time and the consumption of alcohol that night (and, indeed, morning.) I am certain that you can find out more about the procedure if you wish, the internet being a valuable resource for all manner of information and photographs (medical and otherwise.) He had had the operation done on the NHS, the surgery costing something in the region of sixty-four-thousand pounds. It may have been slightly more than that, but it would be too convenient in the context of sexuality to suggest that it had cost “sixty-nine” thousand, and so I have used the figure 64,000 for its appearance in popular culture.
Having fully described the whys, wherefores, and workings of his amended genitalia, the next logical step was to enquire if we wanted to see it. I got the impression that it was a rhetorical question, and cannot now guarantee that he actually waited for my friend to answer in the affirmative before – in modern parlance – whipping it out. Being the only female in the room, perhaps he felt (or hoped) that it would hold some greater interest for her. Being male and thoroughly heterosexual, for me there was (to quote Chic Murray‘s comment about the far more mundane occurrence of a surgery door opening) no novelty to it.
And yet, there kind of was. Purely from a curiosity standpoint, of wondering what a £64,000 penis looked like. I was unlikely to ever get a second chance to glance such a thing and, while I would never have asked to see it, here it was being thrust into my line of sight. My friend was nearer than I, and she got the better look – my view was partially obscured, and I was not sufficiently interested to get out of my seat and walk over to examine it in any great detail. Even she resisted the invitation to grasp it. I will say this, though – from what little I saw of his sixty-four-grand penis (which was actually quite a lot, considering), he definitely got his money’s worth.
I have not seen that guy since, and am not even sure that I would recognise him again, but it was a memorable night and another unique bonding experience in what is one of my closest friendships. The very existence of this blog is due to events like this – situations which naturally progress and make perfect sense at the time, but of which hindsight sees only the absurd culmination and demands the question “how the fuck did that happen?”
Half the time I do not know, even when I remember precisely the steps involved, but it reassures me that at least I am not living an entirely boring life.
I go to a lot of gigs, and have done regularly since the year 2000. I’ve seen a lot of bands and had some cool experiences – I saw Pantera and David Bowie play (what turned out to be, to date) their final Glasgow shows; I saw The Lostprophets play their first ever show here; had ticket number 00001 to see HIM; got into a Rammstein gig in exchange for two litres of vodka; watched Anthrax soundcheck.
I’ve seen my favourite band twenty-five times to date, beaten only by a local band that I saw play close to forty times or more. As well as Glasgow and Edinburgh, I’ve been to gigs in Manchester, Nottingham, Preston, Donington, London, Brighton, New York, and Holland. The last gig I went to was a whole new experience though. I was at Summer Darkness this year, a weekend festival headlined by the band Suicide Commando. They played a “vintage” set on the Friday, which sold out, and a “best of” set on the Sunday.
Any time I have seen a band, ever, there has been a sense of excitement prior to them taking the stage. In the UK, and particularly in Glasgow, this manifests itself closest to the anticipated start time – people cheering, clapping, and chanting the band’s name over the pre-show music. Often it builds, dies, starts again, dies again. Then the stage tech flashes his torch at the Front-of-House guys, the music stops and the lights go out, before the band’s intro music begins. In this moment, from the torch being shone until the band take the stage, the venue erupts with the sound of hundreds or thousands of excited fans. It is so familiar to me, that I never expected it could ever be different. I was wrong.
On Friday night, the band came on stage, to play a headline set to a packed crowd. The lights died, and there was SILENCE. Absolute silence. Nobody spoke, or cheered, or whooped, or whistled, or screamed the band’s name, or anything. Just total silence.
It was a really weird experience, and I can’t imagine what it must feel like for the band, knowing you have sold every ticket and yet unable to tell if you have an audience until you step foot on the stage.
I was shattered, having had almost no sleep in the previous week, and so my mind played tricks on me – over the course of the weekend, I began to think maybe I had imagined it, or exaggerated it in my head. But on Sunday, comparatively well rested and completely sober, the exact same thing happened again: packed crowd, yet when the music stopped and the lights dropped, there was absolute silence. I have never seen anything like it.
This isn’t terribly absurd, I realise, but it was just so strange to witness. These guys are highly regarded in the international scene, so for them to not draw applause from a single person… Yeah, weird.
This is another one of those strange inexplicable coincidences of the type that inspired me to start this blog. I think you can read too much into things, and find parallels between anything if you look hard enough (which is how a lot of comedy is structured), but this particular one is too similar for me to instantly dismiss.
On Sunday night, I was in Utrecht (Holland) at a music festival and wanted to see Peter Hook’s headline set. As mentioned in the previous blog, my friend wasn’t keen on joining me, to say the very least. She eventually relented and came in with me, albeit grudgingly, when I asked her to do so as a favour because I wanted her company. She hated the band, and found them thoroughly depressing, but by chance we were joined by friends and towards the end of the gig she had cheered up enough to stay for the after-party and ultimately had a good night.
We flew home on Monday, and another friend texted me shortly after I’d landed. I realised she would be finishing work presently, and asked if she wanted to go for a drink. She couldn’t, but reminded me there was a pub quiz on at 9pm, and told me I should join her at that. I wasn’t convinced – it was a long weekend, which started with no sleep and wasn’t particularly restful (a fact, not a complaint). My overwhelming desire was to head home, get some food, and pass out on the couch. She told me she would like me to be there.
I’d asked someone to forgo an evening she wanted to spend relaxing in the hotel so that I could have her company. The very next night, a friend was asking me to forgo a relaxing evening at home so that she could have mine. That’s a pretty definite parallel in my mind, and since I do try to be a good friend, and being very aware that my friend’s presence at the gig had meant a lot to me – again explained in the previous blog – I agreed to reciprocate. I took the world’s longest bus journey, dumped my luggage, changed my boots, grabbed some food and headed back out the door. Tired, but knowing it was the right thing to do.
Thing is, it worked out quite well – we lost the pub quiz (we came second), but did successfully play Beat The Safe. One of our pooled tickets was picked from the hat, and of the two remaining combinations available my friend’s pal blindly picked the right one – winning us the £225 contained within. A three-way split meant we each walked out the pub seventy-five quid better off.
I’m not sure if I believe in karma, or that “what goes around comes around”, but it’s things like this that make me think there might be something in it. I’m going to keep repaying favours.
I used to frequent the Cathouse Rock Club with some regularity, mostly on Friday nights and almost exclusively in 2001. One of the door staff was a girl who was instrumental in organising a coach in April of that year, which ferried a few dozen of us down to London to see the band Dimmu Borgir. We went down overnight on the Saturday, spent the Sunday hanging around Camden market and Soho (my first times in either place), and then went to the gig. It was a five-band bill, and the notable other act was Lacuna Coil. In Flames, Nevermore, and Susperia all played too – this was at a time when Dimmu and other bands of their ilk would only play one UK date, in London. Tours including Scottish shows wouldn’t happen for another few years. After the gig, we all piled back onto the bus and came home – this assorted motley crew of metalheads, many of whom were only acquaintances to me, and a handful of whom I still remain in (vague) touch with. I’m writing this precisely eleven years, to the day, after it happened.
A year or so went by, when I happened to bump into Lolly – the former bouncer – in a pub. Although I knew she had left their employ, in a bid to make polite conversation I asked if she was still working at the Catty. Her answer has stuck with me, as it’s about as memorable as an answer can be – “No, I’m working as a dominatrix now. There’s nothing like the feeling of earning seventy quid an hour while a grown man is on his knees crying as he’s sucking your strap-on.”
About a year after that, long after we’d lost whatever basic touch we were ever in, my workmates showed me a centrefold in the Daily Record – it documented a fetish wedding conducted in Gretna Green. They were ribbing me for it, doing that ignorant thing of lumping metal fans (me), goths, and fetishists into one easy-to-categorise group based on the visible attributes of black clothing, band shirts, piercings, and tattoos. What they didn’t expect was for me to look at the accompanying photograph and say “I fucking know her!”
Last night, I found out that a Polish friend is working in Glasgow as a dominatrix. She mentioned her boss, and I said “Is she called Lolly, did she used to work in the Cathouse, and was her wedding featured in the newspaper?” I didn’t expect the answer to be yes. It’s a small world – but then again I suppose the market for making grown men cry while paying to be on their knees and sucking a strap-on is pretty niche.
I lived in ten flats in the space of three years – where I define “living in” as “staying there at least a month or more, during which time I paid rent”. I do not recommend it, it was hellish, and the result of a quite unprecedented run of bad luck, bad decisions, bad flatmates, and owners selling up.
I took a room in Maryhill for a few months, a room too small for unpacking in, and more just a base from which to find somewhere else. I was living with two other guys, one a student from Ireland and the other owned the property as well as having a room in it. He was studying property development or something similar, and since this job entails being a reprehensible cunt he was getting some practice in. At the time, though, he seemed like a decent guy, and I have no doubt he mostly meant well. I left that flat after he impulsively bought another, realised he’d better sell the one he was in, and gave us ten days to get out. Maybe that’s not cuntish, but it was certainly inconsiderate and inconvenient. Here’s another example, and you can form your own opinion.
I had just gone to bed at 3am one night, when the front door opened and a few people came into the flat. There was a knock on my door, and I got up to answer it. Adam was standing there, and explained the situation – he had been at a nightclub, and outside in the taxi queue he’d met two girls. He had convinced them to come back to his flat where, he told them, he was having a party. The problem was, now they were here it was pretty fucking obvious there was no party. I was invited through to join them, as he confided that he really like the dark-haired one, and that I should “take the blonde.” I was naturally sceptical, but threw some clothes on and joined them in the living room.
The girls were good company, and remarkably good-humoured given the false pretences under which they’d been lured. We sat and drank for a couple of hours, the first and only time Adam and I socialised, and it became quickly apparent to everyone except him that 75% of the people in the room thought he was an idiot. The only part of the conversation I remember was his loud assertion that Oasis pissed all over Blur (in 2007, this was hardly relevant anyway), which the three of us disagreed with – Blur were far more musically diverse, for a start. He continued with further dull observations, while it came out that the dark-haired girl had been in a few theatre groups that I’d had a passing acquaintance with. So we spoke about that, and had a really good night despite the numpty in the corner.
Eventually, it came time for them to leave. They decided to phone a taxi, but Adam insisted on calling it for them. He took their mobile phone, dialled, and requested one, giving his address. After forty-five minutes or so, while looking at her phone, the girl he liked announced that the taxi was outside. They got up, and we walked them to the door. He tried to give each of them a goodnight kiss, but they were having none of it. I exchanged nice-to-meet-yous with them, and they left. Returning to the living room, Adam beckoned me to the window – where we watched them walk down the street and turn the corner, gone forever, and with no taxi in sight. He started laughing, and I was confused. So he explained.
He hadn’t phoned them a taxi, just gone through the motions and pretended. She’d obviously looked at the last number dialled, and – being already demonstrably smarter than him – deduced this, then claimed the taxi that they both knew wasn’t coming had arrived. I laughed too, big bellylaughs, at how casually and brilliantly she had played him at his own game. It was also funny that he’d thought his ruse would work. And that’s my abiding memory of Maryhill, that evening.
About a week later, I was in the living room with the door shut. Adam was down the hallway at his bedroom, having a conversation on the phone. I could hear it clearly, and that’s when it dawned on me that, when Adam had knocked my door and told me which one he fancied and which one I should “take”, they must have heard every word. Which makes it all the more incredible that they stayed as long as they did, unless you consider that they were just humouring him for their own amusement. Well played, girls, well played.
I go to Camden Town with some regularity, and have done since I was first introduced to the market there in 2001. A crowd of us had gone down on a chartered coach overnight, in order to see a five-band bill headlined by Dimmu Borgir, and – having previously been to London only once, three months earlier and on my own – I followed the crowd. So that was my introduction to Camden.
Since then, Camden has been my main stopping point during any trip down. Since 2005, I have made the trip annually to see my favourite band (Combichrist) play in London, and as often as not it is a venue in that town that they play. I used to crash with friends or family, until I made two discoveries: Euston Station is a fifteen minute walk from the venue, and; the cheapest train of the day leaves there for Glasgow at 5.30am. So now, on the past few trips, I’ve gone to the gig, then to any aftershow party, and then slowly made my way to sit outside the station for a few hours before getting the train back home. It means I don’t have to hassle anyone for crashing space, don’t have the added expense of a hotel or hostel, and don’t need to fork out the best part of a tenner to get a travel card. I never have to research and run for the last tubes anymore either.
Pulling an all-nighter on the streets of London might be risky, and the first time I did it I was in the vicinity far in advance owing to the train I’d elected to get down. I wandered from the station to the market, looking for anywhere that might be open in the small hours – a 24-hour coffee shop or fast food establishment – and was surprised to see none. On the previous trip, I’d sat in a McDonalds all night, next to a different station from which I was departing. In Camden I decided, in true British style, to ask a policeman.
The first one I saw was on the street behind the Electric Ballroom, and as I approached he was hailed from a side street by a very drunk and cheerful native of the city. “Heh!” he cried, in a manner designed to attract the attention of anyone he chose to address, “Here!” The policeman stopped, looking, and by this time I was in earshot – both of us curious as to where this was headed. “What do you get hanging from trees?” the drunk asked, the answer being “Sore arms!” He then told another joke, which I forget, bid the policeman good day, and disappeared off down the street. I never knew until that point that anyone in London was in possession of a sense of humour. Or that there was a polis out there who could take a joke.
I walked up, as intended, and asked if there was anywhere nearby where I could kill the small hours. It still surprises me that there is nowhere in Camden – a vibrant and bustling town all day long – that stays open 24-hours to serve up a combination of grease, coffee, or internet access. The thought of having to walk or get buses miles out of my way to find somewhere didn’t appeal, and I’ve sat in train stations or at bus stops overnight in Glasgow plenty of times through the years when I stayed at home. I asked him what the area was like, and specifically if I was likely to get jumped. He stood, and looked me up and down – all six-foot-two of my mohawk-sporting, broad-shouldered, seventeen-stone. Scottish frame – and said “You’ll be alright.”
It’s little exchanges like that which keep me going to London every year. Well, aside from the band I love and the friends I’ve made.