I used to work for the catalogue firm Index, one of only two companies encapsulating pictures of their products in glossy books rather than following the more conventional method of putting items on display.
Index ceased trading in the mid-2000s, shortly after I stopped working for them, though I imagine it was unrelated. It was obvious that the company was in trouble, inasmuch as we noticed that less and less staff were being hired to replace those who left. To this day, when asked if I cope well under pressure, I recall that Boxing Sunday when I single-handedly manned the customer service desk while also broadly overseeing the collection desk, jewellery counter, and till points. The queue for returns was so long that its end rarely made it within the confines of the shop, people lined up all the way to the front door and spilling into the shopping mall beyond.
At the time, I hated the job – or, more specifically, most of the customers – but in hindsight I enjoyed the responsibility I was afforded. The staff were good fun too, and there was a healthy cameraderie between us. Like any working environment, there were issues and grievances, but on the whole we got on, worked well together, shared a very bawdy sense of humour, and socialised frequently. We were young and carefree, twenty-somethings who did not take the work entirely seriously. At least three of us were regularly pulled up for poor time-keeping, the reason that I eventually quit, and one of my friends lost her job due to repeated lateness. She went in crying and pleading to be given another chance, was given that chance, and then – come her next shift – decided she had had enough, and stayed home. In retrospect, it is not exactly commendable behaviour, although probably on a par with the majority of attitudes at that age.
A year after I left, my old manager phoned me about a rather more serious matter. One of the women had made allegations against the most charismatic of the stockroom staff, accusing him of sexual harrassment. It was laughable, but policy dictated that it was treated with due gravity. I did not give much truck to the claims, as the guy in question was a friend who had a steady girlfriend and who – although his humour could be coarse and perverse – did not stand out any more than anyone else because of this. His boss, for one, was a dirty old man in the making, as I often joked with them both.
The other reason that it was laughable is that the complainant herself often instigated as many filthy comments as she was now calling inappropriate. She was short, bespectacled, and somewhere in her forties – it was hard to be sure, as she had the haggard face of a lifelong smoker, and the cough to go with it. There is little attractive about somebody who laughs in a manner that suggests they may be about to hack up a lung. As I understood it, her action had proved divisive in the little shop of thirty staff. The managers had to try and remain diplomatically neutral, but I got the impression that of those thirty staff twenty-nine thought she was “at it.”
In defence of my friend, I thought back to an incident some time previously, at one of the periodic staff nights out. This woman had produced, unwarranted, a bag of assorted genital-themed accessories, the most memorable of them being penis straws and earrings similarly shaped like the male member. She was in no way the chaste, put-upon innocent that she was now claiming to be. In truth, the thought of her naked would not so much turn you on as turn your stomach. In a building full of twenty-year-olds, she was not getting much of a look in, and this accusation looked like a bid to effortlessly secure a sizeable payout. I heard no more about the case, and am uncertain as to how it ended.
The conversation at that night out, at a table littered with shaped foil confetti and the remnants of explicit straws, was of a suitably risque nature. Drink flowed, and one of our supervisors was introduced to the term “sixty-nine.” This mutual sex act, named for the position of the bodies in relation to the figure 69, had hitherto bypassed our good Catholic boss.
You know that way, when you hear something for the first time, have a few drinks, and then later try to refer to your new knowledge but with only a vague recollection as to what it was? Thus we were all treated to the inebriated question “what is it again, forty-seven?”
It is hard to know what a 47 would look like, and it does not lend itself to seeming particularly comfortable. If any keen experimenters want to figure it out and let me know, I will be happy to share your findings.
At least she knew better than to call it a ninety-nine. There has been no point in anybody’s life, lying naked in bed with a partner, when one of them has interrupted coitus to say “honey, you know what I want to try right now? An ice-cream cone with a flake in it.”
With a remark like that, you would be guaranteed to make the bedroom cold enough to prevent your ice-cream from melting.
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.
My aversion to karaoke as a form of entertainment is such that, if I am in a pub and it becomes apparent that there will be karaoke, I leave. I am willing to accept most types of music as background noise to whatever conversation I may be having, but I refuse to accept the dominance that is afforded a procession of tuneless drunks.
There are a handful of exceptions – I’ve tolerated it at a few places-of-works’ nights out, a stag night, and – well, that’s it to the best of my memory. As a general rule, if there is no occasion and I am just out for a drink, I’ll go elsewhere.
I have been coerced into participating only twice in my life. This is, in part, due to my complete and very noticeable inability to sing. The other factors involved were alcohol (lots of it) and peer pressure.
The first occasion was in “My Father’s Moustache”, a pub in East Kilbride, where I then worked. I worked for the catalogue shop Index, and our entire staff (numbering about twenty or thirty) were in the pub for some reason or other, besides the obvious. The drinks were flowing freely, and it was the night that Darius was kicked off Pop Idol. I remember this clearly, because at the time I was being told on a regular basis that I looked like him.
As a succession of regulars crooned their ways through all the usual hits – Mustang Sally, Brown-Eyed Girl, Wonderwall, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), New York New York – our party got progressively drunker. We were loud, rowdy, good-humoured, and having great fun. Somehow, I got roped into going up.
My song of choice was “My Way” as sung by Sid Vicious. This was probably towards the end of the period I spent listening to Punk, and I recall that I was wearing my Slayer tour shirt that evening. My name was called, along with the observation “As a special treat, here comes Darius, straight off Pop Idol,” and I ventured forth amidst gentle laughter, to take the mic.
The punters would look to the screen as each singer stepped up, to see what song they would be assailed with, and so up came “My Way.” People went back to their conversations, absolutely not expecting the off-key and piss-taking intro to that version of Sinatra’s classic. You know that scene in the western film, when the guy walks into the bar and the music stops and the place falls silent? I achieved that. My “singing” of that verse, in that vocal manner, briefly shut up an entire pub.
As the song kicked in, and I sneered my way through the second verse as Vicious had done, I was joined on the stage area by a stranger who – judging from his age and enthusiasm – was part of the original musical and social movement that produced it. He grabbed a second mic from its stand, and tried to join in as the host took it from him and reprimanded him with the rules – one singer, one song. No backing vocalists. So, instead, he began vigorously pogoing around the floor, clapping his hands, headbanging, and trying to cajole everyone sitting near the front of the stage area into sharing his energy and appreciation.
That was the first time I ever attempted karaoke, and I still remember it vividly eleven years later.
The second time, it was an aftershow party in very early 2008. I had been working on a pantomime, and all of the cast, crew, and ushers were enjoying private use of a hired nightclub. There was karaoke, and by about half-two in the morning I was drunk enough to agree to a pal’s suggestion to participate.
As one of the cast belted through his own unique, and trademark, rendition of The Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” (“Balls and Tits!” he cried gleefully), we decided upon the song for us. The obvious selection was Falco’s “Amadeus” – renowned, fondly remembered, and suitably ridiculous. Up it came on the screen.
Revealing himself to be surprisingly astute, given his aptitude at work, my friend immediately spotted the flaw in our plan and helpfully announced “Fucksakeman, it’s aw in German.”
It was, indeed, in German. We hadn’t thought beyond the famous chorus.
I rapidly descended into drunkenly listing all of the German words I could think of, rather than attempting to read aloud those on-screen. For a start, I’ve never studied the language, and I wasn’t helped by how fast Falco was rattling through lyrics I was struggling to comprehend let alone pronounce.
In hindsight, it’s unfortunate that most of my German comes from war films, Spike Milligan sketches (“Schweinhund!”), and five years of schooling in the achievements and failures of Bismarck, the unification of Germany, the first world war, and Hitler’s rise to power. It is probably just as well that it was a private party, I think in a pub I would have achieved silence a second time…
There are no plans for a third attempt.
I wrote a piece that I used in my stand-up sets last year, and it centred around phrases that I find overused, misused, abused, and otherwise thrown around abundantly, carelessly, and often inaccurately. One of my pet hates is the inappropriate description of things under the catch-all banner “that awkward moment.” The thrust of my argument is that, almost always, the situation or moment described is not particularly awkward, and a more appropriate adjective can be found. I would like to imagine that, on stage, I relayed that idea with a little more humour than it reads here.
While this was the bulk of my five-minute set, with examples and similar instances, I did witness a genuinely awkward moment just prior to one gig. We were in Edinburgh for the festival, and I was on the bill with my friend Ed. Ed is known for his boisterous enthusiasm and boundless energy, which he combines with a fantastic ear for music and his ever-present trombone to great comic effect. As we had arrived at the venue early, we began trying to hand fliers to passers by, in a bid to coerce people into being our audience. The vast majority of them bodyswerved us, with all the warmth you would expect from the inhabitants of Little England – God’s Frozen People – and I quickly gauged that most of them were natives of the city rather than casual tourists. We had almost no luck in handing anyone the show info, and anyone who graced us by taking a leaflet would, without exception, keep walking.
While Ed leapt around on the pavement outside the venue, varying between shouting about how great the show would be and playing recognisable tunes and themes on the trombone, I stepped forward and tried to hand a flier to a woman who was passing us. She was wearing a shawl or scarf, or possibly a hat, her face half hidden behind sunglasses, and as I offered her the brief she politely thanked me but said she had a show of her own to do. That was the point when I suddenly recognised her as the actress Kristen Schaal, from Flight Of The Conchords.
I wanted to say something cool but definite, to calmly acknowledge that I knew who she was but without fawning over her or drawing attention to her. I was immediately thwarted in this endeavour by Ed, who had turned round and whose jaw dropped when he saw her. “Oh my god!” he cried, “Kirsten Schaal! It’s Kirsten Schaal! I love you, Kirsten Schaal!” He proceeded to half follow her up the street, and half run around on the spot while singularly failing to hide his excitement. “Kirsten!” he shouted, “I love you Kirsten! Oh my god, it’s Kirsten Schaal!” Not knowing what to do with himself, he played a few more notes, and then resumed shouting.
I waited for him to come back down to earth, and asked him – deadpan – “Is her name not Kristen?”
It is. Ed’s face fell. How I laughed.
So, that was the day my friend decided to humiliate himself in public by declaring his love and admiration for an international actress whose first name he repeatedly mispronounced as he shouted it after her. As moments go, it was funnier (for me, at least) than it was awkward – it would have been a lot more awkward had she come back to correct him…
This happened just over a year ago now, and to his chagrin I don’t think I’ll let Ed forget it any time soon. It was just too funny to watch, haha!
There is, I am reliably informed, an accepted technique when it comes to thrusting a glass into somebody’s face – in a pub, for example – which results in maximum damage to the antagonist (and to the glass, obviously), but which limits the chances of you sending broken shards straight through your own skin. I learned this twice, but thankfully only in theory.
The first time, and I forget how it came up, my friend demonstrated the correct method, as taught to her by her father. She talked me through both the move and the reasoning, and I mentally filed it away for potential future reference. We talk about stuff like that periodically, and our shared sense of humour often centres – like much of our culture – around violence, so I didn’t really think anything more of it. Well, until a week later.
I was in another pub, with three other friends, and two of them (a couple) were playing about with their drinks. Suddenly, curiosity spurred my single friend to ask if we knew how to glass somebody – before explaining precisely the same technique I had been taught mere days before. This struck a chord, not least because this particular friend is slightly built, openly gay, and very southern-English. Quite how he ended up describing the established way of perpetrating one of the most Glaswegian of violent acts bemused me, and so I asked him outright, “How the fuck do you know that??”
It turned out that he had been taught by his friend – the sister of the friend who had shown me. Small world.
What worried me, though, was the thought of what my friends must know about my future – of what was ahead of me – that had compelled them to supply me with this information within a week of each other…
It wasn’t entirely coincidental that these other friends knew my Glassing Friend’s sister – although they hadn’t all met, all five of us were working in the same industry, and some occasionally for the same company. It was just weird that this topic of conversation arose twice in such quick succession. I said as much to my friend, who told her sister, and the pair of them reported the whole thing back to their dad. As I heard it, his reaction was to shake his head and lament: “I taught you girls everything – to read, to write. But the one thing you’re telling everyone is – how to glass cunts.”
I’ve told this story many times since, and recently tried it onstage as part of my stand-up comedy (having been made to, and happily, promised not to share the exact details.) It didn’t work in that context, and so here it is in written form. It is worth stating that, to the best of my knowledge, none of us has actually put this theory into practice yet. The emphasis is on the final word of that last sentence.
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 do some work for a local crewing company, operated by a guy who would struggle to run a bath let alone a business.
He was the kind of disorganised person who would text at midnight on a Friday offering you a shift at 7am on the Saturday, and he seemed to always be relying on the next job to provide the funds to pay the crew on the present one. There were always delays in payment, and on the occasions when I chased him up in person I would always be told by the receptionist at the arts venue where he had an office that “there’s a queue” of people to whom he owed money. It seems that it’s a reputation that he was known for. There are two particular jobs that stick out in my mind.
I was asked to go to Braehead to do a get-out, and although it wasn’t ideal – being short notice – I agreed. Braehead is a local arena, and while there was no lift available it was agreed that I’d get a taxi out there and be reimbursed for it. Being an arena, and being told which artist had played the previous night, I turned up wearing my usual attire of jeans, t-shirt, and hooded top, expecting to pack a truck. It was only upon arrival that I discovered that the artist had played on a temporary outdoor stage set up in the car park, and being a cold March morning there was no way that this gig would be a pleasant one.
While waiting for the day’s crew chief to arrive with everyone else, the site manager took me round explaining the job – the truss and staging all had to come down, and she told me where it was to go. There were crowd barriers to be moved, and a perimeter fence to be dismantled and piled up. Half an hour past the start time, I was still the only crew person on site, and my calls to the crew boss went unanswered, as did my texts trying to establish who was in charge. When the car eventually pulled up, it turned out he was taking responsibility. It became apparent that our job solely involved the removal of the perimeter fence, which was fine except that I was entirely unprepared to be outside for the duration. It was a freezing day – well, I say that but it must have been just above freezing because we got rain and not snow. Rain, for all six hours of the shift. Rain that rapidly saturated my inadequate clothing, soaking me to the skin and making me thoroughly miserable. The fence, too, was steel and held together with bolts, and between that and the weather my hands became so cold that I couldn’t feel them – just pain.
Had the venue been in the city centre, where I could have easily got home, I’d have walked off the job – that was how miserable the experience was and how disgruntled I was working for this company. I’ve never walked off a job in my life. The only reason I stayed was because of my outlay – in double figures – for the taxi. At the end of the shift, in an extremely rare change to the norm, we were paid cash in hand and I was given extra to cover the expense. Completely drenched, I just wanted to get home, get a warm shower, get the circulation back in my hands, and put some dry clothes on. It was at this point that the issue of transport arose – one car, already packed. That meant a second taxi home, and as he didn’t have any extra to cover that I was told to meet him in a pub near his office when I got to the town. To get a cab, me and one other guy (an idiot in the truest sense of that word) had to traipse, squelching, half a mile to the nearest supermarket, and then wait forty minutes for a private hire to show up. I didn’t even get to go straight home, doing one drop-off and then heading to the pub to pick up ten quid prior to sloshing back to my flat on foot. That whole experience remains, after six years, the benchmark of misery – I’ve never had another job so wholly demoralising.
Another prime example of this guy’s working practices was a gig we did in Haddington, East Lothian. Two cars went through from Glasgow, one prior to the show because the boss wanted to watch it. I was on the latter trip, and the show over-ran by about an hour. Eventually, when the crowd cleared, we started dismantling the staging. It wasn’t long before the boss decided he’d had enough and was going home, leaving it in our capable hands to finish. This posed a transport problem as he would be driving one of the two cars back to Glasgow, and the rest of the crew couldn’t fit into the remaining one. He was made fully aware of this by the crew chief, yet decided that was what he was doing.
When we completed the task, at about 3am, one driver had to take half the crew to Glasgow, drop us off in the city centre, and then return to the venue to ferry the other guys home too. So this boss, like I said, wasn’t much fun to work for – that was a 140-mile round-trip, and he made this poor bastard drive it twice to get to his work and then to get everyone back home afterwards.
Eventually, I was owed the better part of £150 for work done, and I was avoided so often and for so long – calls, texts, and personal visits to the office – that I gave up in the end. I couldn’t afford the hit, but part of me finally decided it was worth that sum to never see or work for this prick again.
Last night, I met my friend in the pub. She introduced me to her pal, and there he stood. This bastard who stole my wages. I said nothing, since I wrote it off and that was ultimately my choice, but I was interested to see if he remembered me or what he might say. Prior to my arrival, he had told my friend that he would come with us to the gig we were going to. Instead, he finished his drink in just two goes, made some excuse about suddenly not feeling well, and left the bar pretty fucking sharpish.
Like I told her afterwards, I knew exactly who he was as soon as I saw him. On the other hand, he has a hundred and fifty reasons to forget who I am…