Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Bills

Diary Of An Anti-Tory Protestor – Part 1

George Square, 30th March 2013

There comes a point in every man’s life – or, at least, I hope there does – when you realise that clicking “like” on shared Facebook photos and statuses is not an adequate or forceful form of protest. My own study of history leads me to believe that women received the vote as much for the roles they fulfilled during the First World War as for their widely-known protest movement. Yet, it is is hard to believe that Emmeline Pankhurst would have been quite so powerful and historically renowned a figure had her cohorts not chained themselves to the railings of Downing Street and instead merely hashtagged #Suffrage on Twitter. On Twitter, due to the limitations of hashtags involving punctuation, it is not even possible to accurately tag it #Women’sSuffrage.

I was aware, through Facebook, of an actual physical protest being held in my city on Saturday 30th March. This was the end of the week in which, as previously documented here, I had sent out a Tweet requesting that someone hit That Cunt Cameron in the face with a shovel, which was subsequently retweeted by an MSP. It was reported in the Daily Record, and then raised at First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament. My involvement, the reasons for my tweet, and the sentiment behind it were not discussed, and the full (lack of) reaction can be read in the follow-up post here. It seems that I had violently and abusively summed up the consensus of growing public opinion.

I can’t remember how the protest first came to my attention, although due to the political motivations of several of my friends and mutual friends, it began appearing on my pages with some regularity. I have since joined the Anti Bedroom Tax Protest In Scotland page, and have long been a follower of the “The last person to enter parliament with honest intentions was Guy Fawkes” page.

 

Last summer, I had bought a couple of Scottish flags, saltire crosses upon the centre of which I stencilled the logo of my favourite band. One of them ended up on stage with them at their Glasgow gig, held aloft during their encore at The Arches to loud cheers. I had planned to do something similar for another band I was seeing in Berlin at Christmas, but never got round to it. With this “spare” flag still in a drawer, I looked it out and wrote “F_CK THE TORIES” across the middle of it. While the back of my shirt has the same phrase uncensored, it occurred to me that self-censoring the first word would make it more publication friendly, should any photographers or cameramen happen to record it. The message is still unmistakeable, and I deliberately used an underscore in place of the “U” so that, if I decide to, I can fill it in later. The task, which I had started when I got in from a late-night comedy show, was finished by about 5am. I slept a few hours, and then dragged myself out of bed and down into the town.

I knew a few people who had said they were going, and another couple of dozen who had clicked “attending” on the facebook page with no real intention of showing up. One of the former, my friend Matt, was also attending his first ever protest, and I had provisionally arranged to meet him. The overall plan was to assemble at the Green, march to George Square, and rally there. I was running a little late, thanks to the company who – due to the frequency with which they announce it – may be known to the uninitiated as “Scotrail Apologise.” This same company is better known to users of social media as “Fuck Scotrail.” Thanks to their sterling inability to run trains to anything even approaching the timetable they set, I made it to the Bridgegate just as the march set off. Matt was, he texted me, next to a large black Scrap Trident banner, and I stood on the corner of the street until I spotted it. This being a protest march and not an orange walk, it was very easy to infiltrate the ranks to cross the marchers and join him.

 

It fair fills you with civic pride to march alongside hundreds – thousands – of others who all care passionately about the same thing. Especially when you know you are in the right. This “Bedroom Tax”, to use the accepted colloquial term, is completely unworkable. The government are demanding people downsize into homes that just do not exist – it has been widely reported that there are tens of thousands of people who are now required to move into a couple of thousand homes. The housing needed – affordable single-bedroom homes – is not physically available in anything even approaching the numbers necessary. Those affected, therefore, will have to make up the resulting shortfall in their rent, on the back of this cut, and if they can’t keep up payments they will face eviction. On the face of it, this does not affect me. I live in a one-bedroom flat. However, on the back of all the other ill-thought-out strategies – involving Workfare, ATOS, the NHS in England, funding for Trident – and the general hypocrisy of Tory rulers who are, largely, millionaires and have little or no idea what life is like on the breadline – I have had enough. This party has one MP in Scotland. One. That is not a mandate to rule, and when That Cunt Cameron installed himself as the Prime Minister I immediately wrote “Fuck The Tories” across the back of a shirt, in the DIY protest spirit of the original punk movement.

 

With growing anger, I have watched as the Tories have systematically undermined the entirety of the welfare state – rights that were hard fought for by our recent ancestors. On the back of my infamous tweet, mentioned in the blog already linked to, and the general apathy with which it was mostly met, I realised that it is time to protest in a more visible form. I don’t mean, and am not advocating, masks and molotov cocktails, but just being on the streets and marching and swelling the ranks by the number of one. It is my belief that people are taking to the streets to protest the Bedroom Tax, because if they don’t then inordinate numbers of people will be forced to LIVE on the streets. That’s when homelessness increases, and then crime increases, while businesses fold as people divert disposable income into living expenses. It’s time to stand and fight.

This is how I came to find myself in the midst of three thousand people, wearing a shirt and holding aloft a flag that both state my view clearly – Fuck The Tories. I didn’t join in with any chants, partly from being self-conscious, and largely because everything I wanted to say was clearly written upon my person.

msp shirt protest

To my mind, this is the part in the film “Network” where he says “I want you to get up right now, go to the window, open it, stick your head out and yell ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more!’ I want you to get mad!”

I want you to get mad. This affects us all, directly or indirectly. You don’t have to support the SNP or want independence to realise that this whole Bedroom Tax fiasco is unjust and totally unworkable.

 

When we got to the Square, I bumped into or met up with another few friends. My friend McGovern is no stranger to socialism and protest marches, and he joined us to listen to the various speakers being introduced by comedian Janey Godley. I found the pair of us in one of the photographs that was circulated online after the event.

msp protest circled me mcgovern

At least four people took pictures of the back of my shirt – they got my best side – and three of them had the courtesy to ask first. When I went home afterwards, I stopped at a local shop to pick up some messages. A wee woman came up to me from behind and said “Do we just add a tick if we agree?”

Like I said, the feeling is widespread. If you feel that passionately, then do something. Make yourself heard. Stand up for what you believe to be right. Stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. Today, for the first time in my life, I realised that I feel prepared to lock arms with people and prevent evictions, if it comes to it. I’ve had enough.

I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more.

 

bedroom tax meme


The Work Programme: Still Not Working.

I haven’t written about the complete waste of time that is The Work Programme in a while, and this is largely because they appear to be doing less work than the unemployed people it is their sole duty to help.

I can say this with reference to personal experience, as – after they changed my advisor at Easter – I have had approximately three meetings in four months. It is supposed to be fortnightly, and they are supposed to be helping me conduct intensive searches for jobs and/or training, but due to a combination of Bank Holidays and the absence of my new advisor (who booked me in for a meeting on a day he had off as annual leave, and cancelled the latest one), I’ve barely been there.

In truth, I’m happier this way – I find the entire enterprise to be a mammoth waste of resources, and it is becoming increasingly clear to me that, if you are educated and literate, have no dependents or dependencies, and are aged 24 or over, then you are FUCKED no matter how strong your work ethic or desire to escape. They have no idea how to deal with you, or what to do with you, and so far have found me three months’ work that ended after seventeen days, and proposed numerous other jobs that have consistently failed to materialise. Fucking timewasters.

Recently, as evidenced by a blog I wrote here previously, they held a mandatory Jobs Fair event, at which there were no suitable vacancies available. Specifically, they had employers offering too few contracted hours to sustain anybody with rent to pay (based on THEIR OWN calculations), and others offering zero-hour contracts. The latter is a massive gamble, because monthly outgoings remain steady even if earnings fluctuate greatly – from lots, to literally nothing. You run the very real risk of not making anything, let alone enough to pay bills or eat.

One of the companies offering zero-hours contracts there was G4S, the security/stewarding company.

You may recognise their name as part of the first Olympics fiasco (I say first: others seem inevitable) – they were awarded something like £280m to provide staff, and failed. So now they are drafting in the army instead, and will lose approximately £60m of what seems like an unjustifiably large sum to begin with.

It has been reported that in Glasgow, G4S have lost the confidence of the police, who will now assume responsibility for security at Hampden. From the linked article:

Strathclyde Police’s decision comes after the force said on Monday that extra officers were being drafted in because G4S confirmed it was not able to meet its commitments at Hampden Park and training venues in Scotland.

This company has been paid a massive amount of public money to employ people, and Christ knows there’s no shortage of willing unemployed people and certainly not in Glasgow. So fuck knows how they managed to squander it so spectacularly – when there are folk crying out for jobs. It’s all zero-hour contracts though, so I guess people are reluctant to risk everything on nothing.

Give me Independence as soon as possible – Labour did fuck all for us, the Tories were contemptuous of us before and now it’s not just Scotland they are destroying. They’ve all proved they can’t govern us effectively, so it is time for us to have a go ourselves. The one thing that Independence offers, which they can’t, and don’t, is hope.

Without hope, we truly have nothing.

 

 

 


Further Down The Spiral.

As mentioned in my last post, I had to attend a Jobs Fair today. My cynicism was well placed.

There were half a dozen companies with representatives there, two of them hotel chains; a photographer who had left before I arrived; an event stewarding company; and a cleaning company. The stewarding company are vaguely in my line (theatre, film, TV, and events crew) but they only offer a zero-hours contract, in line with the rest of the industry. They also only pay minimum wage, and so if I could risk the gamble of having no set hours then I would apply to every theatre under the sun ahead of donning a high-visibility jacket and parading football grounds and festival sites – the pay is better, and it’s what I want to do. The problem with no set hours is that there’s no set pay, and when you have several fixed monthly outgoings to meet it’s a risk. The Jobcentre don’t make it easy for you to take that option either, as by the time your claims are closed, opened, or processed your work situation has changed again. Somebody needs to address that.

The Work Programme have mentioned in passing a number of vacancies they have going in a recycling plant. It’s hardly glamourous, but I know they’ll provide all necessary PPE and it’ll be a lot more enjoyable than anything office based. If it’s lifting and shifting, then that is much the same as theatre to some degree. I thought that was the job I went to ask about today, but I was wrong.

The advisor sat me down and told me that this firm clean offices – fine, whatever, I’ll clean an office. At this point I don’t care, so long as it is financially viable. Then she told me that they’ve just been awarded the contract to clean a local theatre. Specifically, a theatre where I worked as a carpenter, flyman, stage crew, and followspot operator. I politely declined, because I’m not ready to turn up at my old place of work in that capacity. “Hi Jordan, how are you, not seen you in ages, what you been up to, what you doing here?”

“Can you show me where the hoover is?”

Naw.

I can take a knock to my pride, sure, but I’m not about to dropkick it down a dozen flights of stairs and then stamp its head concave.

It’s not even full-time hours anyway, the most they can offer is 24/week and the Work Programme have already told me (via a Better Off In Work calculation) that I need to be doing  at least 37 to make ends meet. So that’s the jobs they could offer me today – one that won’t guarantee it can cover my regular expenditures (rent, bills), and one that doesn’t provide as many hours as they’ve told me I need to be doing. Complete waste of time.

I held off writing that on the feedback sheet they gave me to fill in on my way out.

 

 


Time Is Money, And Tattoos.

Life is absurd. Statement of fact. I called my blog this because there are so many incidences that are beyond the realms of comprehension, it is easier to just embrace the fact that crazy things happen all the time, rather than try to fully understand them. Here is one such coincidence, which has flummoxed me. Some background information is required.

A few months ago, I decided on a whim to finally investigate getting my first ever tattoo. I figure now I’m 30, the folly of youth is somewhere behind me. Trevor, the drummer in my favourite band, Combichrist, is a tattoo artist, and I asked him to quote me a price to get some work done on their forthcoming UK tour. His fee of $150/hour in cash, while not particularly unreasonable when you consider his portfolio and his standing, was sufficiently off-putting for someone with only an idea and no real money. Even with a favourable exchange rate, I’d need the cash (as opposed to credit card) and have to pay commission. Then consider that I have no idea how labour-intensive a tattoo is, how quickly it can be done, or in fact very much at all about the actual procedure involved. All I know for certain is that I want my first tattoo to hold meaning, and I’m extremely relieved that at no point in my twenties did this desire for a tattoo manifest itself this strongly – otherwise I might be permanently inked with the name of a band I no longer listen to.

Caught up in the idea, I immediately set about thinking of something appropriate but simple – filled with meaning, but achievable within an hour-long session. The Combi logo seems hack, and I realise now that I don’t want to be marked with the name of a band who look set to become huge – fine for the first few years, and then you look like you jumped on the very bandwagon you helped start rolling. I decided instead, in a sudden epiphany, that my first tattoo should involve the word “Glasgow” – my home for the past eight years, and when I moved here I discovered that I was always a Glaswegian, I’d just been trapped in Hamilton for 22 years. In describing this choice of tattoo, I would say: I’m a part of it, and it’s a huge part of me. I combined some Google image searches, and quickly came up with something I liked.

My closest and most trusted friend is a girl I have known for the entirety of our adult lives, and last night in the course of sending her an email I mentioned, for the first time, this notion that had taken me some months back. It didn’t relate to the rest of our conversation, apart from me saying that I’ve just booked up to see Combi four times on this tour, and neither of us is tattooed (which surprises many), but as she is my barometer of good/shit I ran my design past her. Her response, condensed, is that I should re-think the border I have chosen, and replace it with something that holds significant meaning. “I don’t think your tattoo design is finished yet would be my concluding remark if I was to make one which I have in fact just done.”

I realised, lying in bed reading this at 4am, that she is right. This is partly why we are friends and why I run things past her. I had hastily created this design and then chose the best of five similar ones I threw together one afternoon. Sure, the actual name of this city is as significant as any one place can be in a man’s life, but the rest of it came from what was at hand at that particular time, drawn from half a dozen pages of search results. There is still two months until the tour, plenty of time to plan further the artwork I want indelibly drawn on me, and although I am happy with the result generated so far, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is finished or doesn’t require additional work. Even though it isn’t financially viable right now, and though I did some research and came up with a few designs, one of which I like a lot, there’s still the possibility of creating something even better. All of which might be blindingly obvious to some of you, but which I was obviously blind to. That’s the thought I fell asleep to, tattoos and Glasgow and the resolution to put further thought into my design and make it truly personal.

**************************************************************************************************

Tonight, I finally got round to putting away some of the stuff that I dug out of boxes last week, stuff that has been in storage at my dad’s since I moved out of my first Glasgow flat – long-lost treasures like my craft materials, black kilt socks, and a hip flask. I put this last item in the drawer with my other good-but-scarcely-used items, among the neckties, the kilt socks and pins, the other hip flask, the cufflinks, and the watch I’ve never worn. It was a present from my youngest sister, sometime when she was still working in a jewellers, but I’d stopped wearing a watch at that point as I didn’t like having the extra weight on my wrist and used my phone to tell the time. It has sat in various drawers all of the years since, during which time the battery has gradually died. As you do when confronted with some rarely-seen item of clothing or jewellery, I took it out and put it on, noticing that it could do with having a link or two removed and contemplating whether I have the skills and the tools for the job. Idly trying to wind it, I removed the plastic display insert from the box, looking for the instructions to confirm the method of setting the time. I don’t really want to break a watch that is as pristine as a watch can be. What I found was so unexpected that I have no explanation for it, and when I phoned my sister to ask her if she can tell me more, she can’t even remember ever giving me a watch.

“Are you sure it was her gave you it?” asked another friend. I am certain – I don’t own an abundance of jewellery, and I remember precisely how I acquired that little which I have: a watch for my 21st, which I chose and which has been broken for years and no longer has the metal strap attached; this watch my sister gave me, year unknown; my grandpa’s wedding ring, the replacement for the one he lost in the Mediterranean Sea; a gold chain that was my 18th birthday present, and which hasn’t been worn in over a decade; and a pair of cufflinks which my dad gave me in anticipation of my need for them at my sister’s wedding. That’s it. And at no point do I remember secreting money in any of them.

When I lifted out the plastic insert, there was a flap in the bottom of it with thick folded paper – I presumed instructions – inside. It came as a surprise to find that it is actually $130 US dollars in ten-dollar bills. I have no recollection of hiding money in there, and I have only been to America twice – in summer 2005 and February 2006. Both times, I took Travellers Cheques and only a handful of notes. The cheques were slipped inside the covers of various books I had taken with me, stored with my passport, and generally kept in a few different locations. Some were in my suitcase, some in my wallet, some in my backpack – all sound hiding places, and ensuring that it would take extremely bad luck to leave me without anything. When I did run short of money, towards the end of my ten-day stint in NYC in 2006, I figured I had spent more than intended or had done some poor accounting. In 2009, when I had moved into and from six flats, and finally unpacked all my boxes of books, I found an uncashed Travellers Cheque inside the back cover of the novel I had been reading at the time. I certainly can’t explain this wad of notes in the watch box.

For a start, it’s a watch I have never worn, and so I can’t imagine why I would have taken it on a transatlantic journey. The plastic insert has been sliced open, unevenly, and I am not given to destroying my belongings in such a way – if this was my chosen hiding place, I’d be far more inclined to keep it aesthetically pleasing by keeping the insert intact then folding the notes flat and hiding them under it. To damage something in otherwise excellent condition, to make uneven slits in the base instead of neatly cutting along the seams, to then secrete a bundle of notes inside it instead of keeping the notes flat – none of this strikes me as my natural choice. Then there is the fact that there are thirteen notes here, and I have explained on here previously that I have a lifelong aversion to that number. To place 13 ten-dollar bills in one place, to my mind, would be tempting fate.

I actually checked the notes against the light, looking for watermarks (which I found), but sense tells me nobody would go to such lengths to hide Monopoly money. There are only two possible explanations: 1) I put this money here for safekeeping, for reasons and in circumstances now wholly eradicated from my memory, or; 2) fuck knows. The money was hidden there by person or persons unknown on its way to, or before being returned unused to, the reputable jeweller who then sold it on? That seems implausible, and yet the rational option (that I did it) is alien to me in numerous ways. I have to accept that I will never know for certain, but there is one notable upside. Specifically, $130 dollars, in cash, is almost exactly enough to pay for a tattoo…

I would say this is really weird, this casual talking of and rethinking my tattoo (which hasn’t been spoken of in months) then suddenly finding funds for it completely by chance, because it is. But life is so overwhelmingly absurd anyway that it’s just another inexplicable coincidence to be taken in stride.

And if you ever hid 130 bucks in a watch box then lost track of it, please don’t contact me.


A Lack Of Logic Demonstrated By My Degree.

I studied at the RSAMD, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, in the days before they changed their name. They are now the RCS, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, a name firmly in keeping with the pretensions they exhibit, and which has variously earned them the nicknames The Conservatory or the Arsey Ess.

There has always been a tendency, working backstage in the theatre and related industries, for people to offer unpaid jobs in return for those empty promises of “experience” and “looks good on the CV” – neither of which pays bills. I think many of us do a couple of those jobs then decide we are worth more than that – skills, experience, and ability cost money. It looks good on your CV only if you want your CV to show that you do not particularly value yourself. The practice continues though, perhaps moreso now there’s a recession. Over on the Scottish theatre forum, there isn’t a week goes by without people looking for free labour, free hires, favours, and other underpaid or unpaid help. Unfortunately, with new students looking for steps up and newcomers looking for ways in, there are always willing volunteers.

This damages the industry as a whole, because – if there is someone willing to work for nothing – then it fills a gap that would otherwise result in paid work for somebody. It is bad enough being undercut, but when you are being undercut by someone happy to work for literally nothing it is extremely hard to compete. This has long been a bugbear of mine, and now – with the Government’s Workfare programme – the habit is spreading. Populating businesses with unpaid staff has a knock-on effect, depriving others of paid work. And if you can get a person who’ll work free, why would you take on someone that needs paid next time? Instead, you know you can find a new volunteer.

A few years ago, I got a mass email from my course leader, looking for people to work for the RSAMD and with a national company for “expenses and experience.” The list of recipients included students and alumni, some of whose names I recognised – since our course only took in thirty people a year – from five years above me. I wrote back, saying it was terrible that they of all people were perpetuating this practice, and degrading – none of us spent three years getting into thousands of pounds of debt to graduate with a vocational degree so that we could work for “experience.”

It later transpired that that co-production managed to go £100,000 (yes, a hundred thousand pounds) over budget. It was widely reported in the press at the time. I wrote to my course leader again, asking how demoralised you would be if you had agreed to work for those “expenses and experience” and then discovered they’d managed to overspend on everything else, except your wages, by £100k.

Her response was to write and say she had removed me from the mailing list. Point: missed.


Counter Service Intelligence

I had two encounters that amused me today, but you’ll need some background for the first one.

Prior to Christmas, I was employed by the Royal Mail via Manpower via the Work Programme. That sounds a bit messy, and it was. The job was meant to last until March, but lasted just fifteen days. There’s plenty more I plan to say about that in due course. Manpower’s staff and conduct were abysmal, so I made a formal complaint. This went to a grievance hearing, at their invitation, and the letter of outcome that arrived last week was very unsatisfactory in many ways. Feeling that they just don’t care, I wrote a letter to head office appealing the decision, but keeping my tongue firmly in my cheek. That letter will undoubtedly appear here once they have had the chance to respond – my wee sister read it and cried laughing. Today, though, I went to the Post Office to mail it.

The counter clerk, a wee Glesga Woman, took it from me, and asked if there was anything of value in it – vouchers, cheques, etc. I said no, only satire.

“What’s satire?” she asked, “Is that a flag?”

“No, that’s The Saltire.”

“So what’s satire then?”

“Sarcasm,” I said, explaining briefly the content of the letter and reason for sending it. She was happy to have learned a new word, and said she felt bad having to charge me to post it. I said that was fine, just so long as they don’t lose it…

 

From there, I went to The Co on the corner of Gordon Street and Union Street to pay a bill. They have the electronic voice thing that beckons you forth, and I was directed to Cashier Number Seven Please. Glancing up at the numbered LED displays above each till, it was obvious that they only go up to six. I took my chances, and went for the last till. When I mentioned the anomaly, the girl said “I know, I don’t know why that is.”

I asked if it was a joke, so they could stand and laugh at anyone stood scratching their head while trying to work out why they’d been called to the seventh till in a line of six. She laughed and said “Aye, that’s it.”

That was my entertainment for the day, not least because they both happened within minutes of each other. Sometimes I’m easy pleased.