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.
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?”
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.
Above: Their brief and misspelled reply. Read my response to it and them here.
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”
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.
Above: Their wholly uninspiring stock reply. Read my response to it (and them) here.
I walk a lot, and think nothing of it. I would like to say that this is indicative of a healthy lifestyle, but it is just something that was instilled in my nature a long time ago.
I grew up in a residential area, an area not served by public transport. Due to its relative proximity to the town centre, a walk from my childhood home to the nearest bus stop was, in effect, a walk to where I would want a bus to take me. The two primary schools I attended were similarly located, and my secondary school was not much further away. I had a bicycle for going longer distances – my friend’s bit at the top of the town; the local parks – but I made a two-mile round trip to school every day, by foot and whatever the weather. As a teenager, if I wanted to go somewhere, I walked.
When I moved to Glasgow, my first flat was situated at Charing Cross. This busy city intersection, where several motorway junctions converge with Argyle Street, Sauchiehall Street, and Great Western Road, was not well-served by public transport either. From the front door of my close, the nearest bus stop was at least halfway in the direction of where I wanted to be. Given the congestion, and our notorious one-way streets, I found that I could easily cross the city quicker than the average bus. While a double-decker bound for my destination idled at yet another set of traffic lights, I would be cutting down side streets and darting across junctions, making good time despite the weight of an extra couple of quid in my pocket – coins unspent on a fare.
As I came to know the layout of my adoptive hometown, I realised that everything is near everything else – if not geographically then psychologically. Aided by the grid system of the city centre, I quickly discovered that there are a dozen different routes to a given place, and it is remarkably easy to work out in which direction you are heading. I love this city (and its people) and, as much as I despise living in the UK, I cannot envisage living anywhere else. Part of my loathing for shopping malls stems from this desire to roam freely – I resent being herded along a single, congested thoroughfare.
Now that I live four miles from the centre of Glasgow, I still regularly make my way home on foot. One of my friends sees this constant walking as me seeking solitude, creating a space where I allow my thoughts to breathe, and this observation is astute of him. The road I walk, literally and not figuratively, is largely straight. Despite the distance, this makes it seem closer than it is – closer still if I have the partial company of someone who lives on the route. It is this last stretch, once we have gone our separate ways, and often in the early hours of the morning, where my plans formulate. The stillness of the night is remarkable, in stark contrast to the noise of four lanes of jammed and stationary vehicles which will congregate there a few hours later.
Whether I walk to think, or think because I am walking, it is a useful way to sort the notions and ideas in my head. Many is the one-liner or wee story that has come from this quiet time, or from an encounter just prior to it. Scenarios suggest or present themselves, and I twist them until I find the perfect way to express them – as a sentence, as a set of jokes that build, or as an entry on this site.
Earlier this year, at the West End festival, we followed it into and out of Kelvingrove Park. The park has a number of entrances, leading onto at least four main roads, and as the crowd dispersed a disoriented chap next to me stopped to get his bearings. “Whit street’s this?” he asked, as I passed, before working out which direction he needed to go in.
This incident came to mind late last week, when I went for a wander along the canal that is beside my home. I knew there was a path from it to the Botanic Gardens, but had never successfully found it. Although starting aimlessly, I took a turn off the towpath as idle curiosity drove me to seek it out. Taking this unknown route, passing through avenues of trees and diverting past some high flats, before negotiating down to and following the river, it would be easy to lose track of your position. I did not fear becoming lost, confident that I could always retrace my steps, but I imagined an exchange with the adroit wit of a typical, though non-existent, Glaswegian. We meet as we are walking in opposite directions along the canal, with me trying to find my way to this park.
“If I keep walking in this direction, where will I get to?”
if i was still doing stand-up comedy, I might have used this or transformed it into something else. Instead, it went unwritten. At the weekend, I came to relate all of this in conversation – an acquaintance asking:
“Which canal, the Forth and Clyde Canal?”
“Then it would take you to the Forth, or to the Clyde.”
“Oh yeah. It was well-named.”
You would still get to the coast, you would just come to a tidal river first.
Had I turned this into a tall story, I would now have a second or possibly even third laughter point in it. I yet might. I did, however, chance upon the correct turn-off – my walk along the waterway cleared my head, gave me a new joke, and the idea for this blog, and enhanced my knowledge of the local area. Compare that to the constant stop-start of smelly buses, noisily polluted by modern technology, arguing neds, crying children, and accompanied by the sounds of unnecessary air conditioning and a loudly-throbbing engine.
Buses can go fuck themselves. There is a more serene and scenic way to travel – foot.
It is fortunate that the UK does not have the same legislation as the US when it comes to the “crime” of jaywalking.
In Glasgow especially, traffic lights are provided more as a decoration, or as a suggestion, rather than as a mandatory crossing point. Crowds of people will cross the main city centre roads, regardless of traffic volume or colour of light. It is made very easy to position yourself in such a way that you have people to either side of you.
This is a useful tactic, independently recognised and adopted by some of my friends, that ensures if a car does plough into the swathe of pedestrians at least someone else will take the brunt of the impact.
Although I still have, somewhere, in some forgotten box, the badge signifying my membership of The Tufty Club, it seems this was not covered in the road safety advice doled out to schoolchildren in the early eighties:
It is such a common occurrence, and sight, to see people crossing using their own judgement that if it were to be made illegal they would be as well to just wall Glasgow in – given the size of a prison that would be required.
Any time I am with friends who shy away from crossing at undesignated points, or with traffic approaching, I tell them “they’re not allowed to knock you down.” This stems from something I was told once.
I was at a crossroads in the north of the city – where Cambridge Street meets Renfrew Street – and was, using my judgement and then-firm knowledge of the sequence of light changes (I studied in the area), awaiting the green man.
Over the street, a jakey (a young local with a taste for tracksuits and – gauging from his demeanour – tonic wine, cheap cider, and narcotics) began crossing towards me.
A bus turned the corner, narrowly missing him as he refused to let it impede his progress. As it passed he looked at me and confidently told me, with a swagger and in that infamous nasal whine adopted by those of his ilk, “They’re no’ allowed tae knock ye doon, mate. They’re no’ allowed tae knock ye doon.”
I admired his faith. I wouldn’t trust Glasgow’s bus drivers to not knock me down.
As one of my friends later said, when I related the story, in his head the law beats physics.
That was at least six years ago now. To this day, if anyone questions my judgement in darting across streets or in walking halfway across roads and waiting for further traffic to pass before completing my journey, and it has happened twice in the past fortnight, I tell them the same thing: they’re no’ allowed tae knock ye doon.
Strange how a chance encounter can leave such an impression.
I lost my job because of Paul Di’Anno. The original Iron Maiden vocalist wasn’t directly responsible, but he was partly involved – inasmuch as I skipped work to go to a signing he was doing at a record fayre.
It was 2003 and I was working in Index, The Catalogue Shop. If you can’t remember that particular chain, imagine Argos but with less sophisticated clientele. I was principally in at weekends, and the shop would regularly look like a bomb had gone off by the end of the day – catalogues, order forms, pens, and fast food debris strewn over every available surface. This was the shop where somebody ran off with one of the stereos that was on display, the police were called, and he was caught when he came back for the speakers.
In hindsight, I actually really enjoyed working there. We got away with a lot, we had a good laugh, we got loads of shit from arsehole customers, but we were also afforded responsibility and quite a high degree of trust. We abused the managers, of course, but compared to some people I have worked for since, they were remarkably reasonable people on the whole. More often than not, we all got on pretty well and had fun. At the time, I didn’t appreciate it quite so much.
The job could be quite demoralising, not helped by the deplorable bus “service” that I was forced to rely on, and I was late for my shifts more often than not. I got warnings about it, which didn’t improve my demeanour, and I know for a fact that I missed out on a promotion or two because of it.
The breaking point came when they refused me holidays one weekend, on a Saturday in March 2003 (as I recall.) It was a few days before Paul Di’Anno played a solo show at the Barfly, and as a long-time diehard Maiden fan, it was his first visit to Glasgow since I got into them. There was no way that I was passing up the opportunity to meet their first frontman, and to get oodles of merchandise signed. Nowadays, I’m less phased by it all – my love of Maiden has waned, and I don’t really bother with autographs unless I think it will eventually increase the value of the rarer stuff I still have. I spent close to £3000 accumulating my Maiden record collection – all kinds of memorabilia – and at some point I will sell it all, but the sheer amount of money and time I spent gathering it all should indicate my devotion to them back then. I phoned in sick from the train to the SECC, and my boss told me I had to come in as they were understaffed and had refused my holiday for that reason. I apologised but said that I would be absent.
The record fayre was large and well laid out, but very quiet. I browsed various stalls and picked up some more rare gems, a phrase I deliberately chose to use there because it sounds so utterly wanky. “Rare gems” – read: promo CDs, a scarf, a 12-inch or two. Di’Anno was there with some woman, I presume his mrs, and was predominantly occupied with signing and plugging copies of his autobiography. I bought the book, and got him to sign – looking back – a quite significant amount of stuff. He signed some of Maiden’s first singles and LPs, a Japan-only release, some rare US and Canadian pressings, a back-patch that I have never yet seen another of, some cassettes, and probably more besides. I actually got one promo CD signed by Blaze Bayley seven years later, and was surprised to discover when I got home that it had already been signed on the inside by Di’Anno. That was how much of my collection he autographed – I couldn’t even keep track of it all.
The proceeds from his book were going to some cancer charity, if I remember correctly. I do remember, vividly, that his mrs approached me as I walked away having chatted to him and got him to sign everything. She said that really, since he had graciously done that for me, I should donate a tenner to the charity bucket. I was caught so off-guard by this, eyes glazed over and happy at having met someone who fronted my then-favourite band, that I didn’t protest and just fished a note out of my wallet and handed it over, unquestioningly.
Once I read his book, and its revelations about his fondness for a particular marching drug, and about the fortunes he has made and lost, I had my doubts as to where that ten quid was truly destined. The general critical opinion of his autobiography was that the recollections therein should be taken with a large pinch of salt, and in the subsequent band biographies Paul has always been portrayed as being a little wayward, and a bit loose with the truth. His stories are wild and not always particularly reliable. However, he was certainly friendly and amiable, happy to talk and to answer my questions, although I wouldn’t ever want to cross him. He gets a lot of stick for trading on his past, since he only did two albums with Maiden thirty years ago, but it is increasingly well known that he sold all of his rights back to the band a decade ago now. He might sing the songs live and cover them on his CDs, but he makes no money from them any more. That might account for the benefit fraud that landed him in jail last year…
His band played a gig a few nights later, and it was a set almost entirely of Maiden songs and a cover of “Faith Healer” – enjoyable, but I’ve forgotten most of it now. Like Index, the venue folded a few years later and neither company exists now. When I went back to work later that week, I had a disciplinary hearing and received a written warning, but I had already lined up other work in the theatre and with the Inland Revenue (which also no longer exists under that name, incidentally.) It didn’t surprise my boss when I went in and just passed her my resignation letter across the desk. When I served my notice and left, it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders, and I realised how unhappy I had become working there. Nine years later, I look back fondly on those days – it was just a completely different time in my life. We got up to a lot of nonsense, but it was great fun. No regrets.
Di’Anno has played here once or twice since, but I’ve never made the effort to go and see him again. Not because I fear for losing another job, more due to a lack of interest as my taste in music has broadened and shifted. Maybe I’ll catch him again some day.
A few years ago, when I was still a Glaswegian trapped in Hamilton and before I escaped to the city that is rightfully my home, I used to voluntarily work backstage for most of the local amateur theatre groups. They were largely based in (or performed at) the Town Hall, as it then was. It has since undergone refurbishment and become The Townhouse – a delusion of grandeur that it didn’t really merit. When I went back there to see it, prior to it being reopened to the public, I had it pointed out to me that all the scenery and flight cases now have to be loaded in through a double door made entirely of glass. It looks very pretty, if you like your architecture of glass and steel, but it is exceptionally impractical for a door that will be in such heavy and potentially-destructive use.
While the building was closed for this makeover, and other changes they made included taking all the fun out of flying the scenery – the very thing that caught my interest when I started – one local group took to performing their shows in Motherwell instead. If Hamilton is too small and depressing, Motherwell is worse. Beyond that is Wishaw, and then after that you’re in Wild West country. Here is an example.
I took the bus over to Motherwell that first night of the week’s run, but I wasn’t entirely sure of my bearings – having managed to avoid that town for some years – and couldn’t tell, in the dark and looking through windows thick with condensation on the inside and muck on the outside, where to get off. Naturally, perhaps inevitably, I missed my stop. In the middle of nowhere, or at least in unfamiliar territory, I decided my best option was to stay on the bus and wait for it to make the final stop, turn around, and head back. Then I could admit my error and ask the driver to let me know when to get off.
Eventually, I was the last person on the bus. The driver shouted up and asked me where I was going, as this was the final stop, and I told him I’d long since missed my destination and would jump off on the way back. That was when he told me he wasn’t going back, as his shift was finished. He said he would drop me off though, and told me to move down and sit on the seats directly behind his cab.
I had been sitting maybe four rows into the bus, on the right hand side as I faced forward. There was one seat behind the driver’s cab, which faced the aisle, and another the other side of the wheel arch, and then rows of double seats on both sides all the way to the back of the bus. As instructed, I moved down to this new seat and sat down. The driver switched the main gangway lights off, and we drove on in relative darkness. I don’t know where I was, but it was some winding country road with little ambient light.
About twenty seconds after I relocated, if that, a half-brick came hurtling through the window beside the very seat I had been sitting on. I don’t know if the driver anticipated that or just wanted to be able to put the lights off, but the fact that it arrived so suddenly, and precisely where I had been sitting, right after he told me to move, rattled me no end. The rest of the journey was very cold, on account of the shattered window (the rest of it fell in on the course of the journey), but I did make it to my stop eventually.
I can’t remember, even vaguely, which show I was working on. It might have been South Pacific, but I wouldn’t put money on it. I can’t remember when exactly this happened – other than the early 2000s – but what I do remember, quite vividly, is the time that I missed receiving a brick in the face and a mouthful of broken glass by mere seconds. I’m glad that I was told to move, and happier that I did so. Timing is everything.
A couple of winters ago, I was living in a different part of the city. You meet a different type of person on the buses that go down Paisley Road West than you do on the buses that go up Great Western Road, which is a statement of fact and not a judgement, and this involved the former. It was a cold December night, a few days before the major celebration of that month, and the bus was packed full. I sat next to a black man of average build, who was in the window seat. Directly behind him there was a bigger-built black guy with a mean look on his face, and next to this guy was the evening’s Bus Arsehole – a drunk, mouthy, Glaswegian woman of forty or fifty.
The guy next to me was having a conversation with the gent behind him, I presume in their native tongue but short of knowing that it wasn’t English or one of the main Romanic languages, I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess as to precisely which dialect they were using. The big guy was happy enough when leaning forward and chatting this way, but he didn’t like the interjections from the Bus Arsehole – and it wasn’t hard to fathom why. She sat behind me, tutting loudly every time they spoke, and making a point of doing so in such a way that they would notice her disgruntlement.
The guy next to me was very affable, and starting talking to the woman in English – apologetically, for reasons I will come to. Whenever those two spoke, the big guy sat back into his seat, his demeanour changing and his engagement in social interaction replaced with the kind of scowl that suggests you will have the fuck knocked out of you if you even looked at him.
“Yous should talk in English,” the woman told the guy sitting diagonally in front of her (and next to me.) I bit my tongue and didn’t point out that we have our own recognisably distinct version of English – Scots – which made her remark a little hypocritical. Instead, I listened as the guy next to me apologised profusely and tried to explain why they were talking in their own language – as if it somehow needed justified to this inebriated stranger.
“Yous should speak English, so’s that other people know what yous urr saying,” she said. That was the moment when I joined in, siding with the guy next to me. “Mate, it’s none of her fucking business what you’re saying, don’t apologise!” Technically I had been doing as she wanted to – listening in to something that didn’t involve me – but since I was in such close proximity there was no way I could have reasonably been expected to have avoided it.
“Whit you sayin’ tae it?” she demanded of me, refocusing her attention and launching into a tirade of personal abuse, to which I responded by calling her an Earywigging Bastard. The big guy sat there next to her, stony-faced and saying nothing, and the man next to me continued to try and humbly defuse the situation. I wasn’t rising to it though, I can handle myself well enough against verbal abuse from drunk arseholes, and especially in my home city. Could you imagine that she would go to some far-off country with a friend then speak in that country’s native language and not her own? No.
I stayed calm and ignored her, and a few stops later when it was time to get off the bus I embraced the “Goodwill To All Men” spirit of the season. As I got out of my seat and headed towards the door, I turned and said to her – cheerfully, with a warm smile, and knowing it would probably wind her up even more, me being something of a wind-up merchant – “Have a good Christmas.”
“Have a good Christmas?!” she asked, as if that was the biggest insult she had ever taken. If she answered back to that, I didn’t hear it as I had already stepped off the bus. I have never experienced anything like that before or since, someone being so blatantly rude, arrogant, and nosey – “talk in my language so I can understand what you are saying.” Fuck off, it’s none of your business! Arseholes like that bring this city down.
A week later, I was in the town meeting a few friends and acquaintances and – small world that it is – the guy who had been sitting next to me was working in the pub we went to. We remembered each other, and shared an acknolwedgement of where from and a brief hello. I haven’t seen him since, but I hope he no longer excuses himself for holding private conversations in whichever language he sees fit.
The recent fare hike (another one) is making cycling look like a viable alternative: ten all-day tickets would pay for a wee second-hand two-wheeler, although they have pre-empted this loss in custom by making the buses and bicycles use the same lanes of the road – if you’re on a bike within the vicinity of one of First Glasgow’s buses you’re taking your life in your hands.
Despite this increase in fares, and with no significant improvements after the last hike – their fleet is still filthy on the outside, smelly and rubbish-strewn on the inside, with ill-mannered and impatient drivers who succeed in hitting every pothole available to them as they create others – they have instead invested money in providing wi-fi on one route, for no feasible reason, and also despatched one of their staff to hand out bunches of roses to unsuspecting passengers in the week prior to Valentine’s Day. Hardly fucking relevant.
I am reminded, too, of a piece I wrote for my stand-up set: “First Glasgow’s timetable is the greatest work of fiction in existence – no matter how many times you read it, you still have no idea what’s going to happen next.”
Today, I boarded the 118 service into Glasgow city centre. I fired in my £1.80, and (without a word from the driver) was issued a ticket marked £1.85 – I don’t know how they are making people aware of the change in price, but it’s certainly not through the effective and centuries-old method of verbal communication. The ticket destination was printed as Renfield Street/Hope Street – two one-way streets in the centre of the city that sit parallel to each other, with traffic flowing in opposite directions – and there was nothing untoward about it. The only slight discrepancy, and it is one I feel is worth noting here, arose in Renfrew Street, outside the RSAMD (as it will forever be known to me – none of this Arsey Ess [RCS] rename shite). Specifically, the driver pulled into the stop and switched the engine off.
“Is this the last stop?” I asked, his communication being as ineffective as before. He had parked without saying a word.
So, there you have it – First Glasgow sold me a non-transferable ticket for a journey that was longer than the one their bus actually made. I don’t mind walking (I prefer it infinitely to paying to be on their dreadful buses), but I was running to a tight schedule and so it was something of an inconvenience. Maybe the fact I had to walk past the next three or four stops is why the driver didn’t pursue me for the extra five pence, although, as I understand their five-stop fare has risen to £1.15, this seems like a disproportionate and inadequate discount on my ticket price.
Given the appalling level of service, it’s a real shame that First have the monopoly on travel in this area via First Glasgow and First Scotrail, and you can read a dedicated Twitter feed about the latter’s repeated incompetence here. For those of us sick of the steep cost of being shoogled on their filthmachines, it’s making cycling alongside the buses seem a risk worth taking.
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.
This happened a couple of years ago, in 2010, and thankfully I wrote it down at the time. I have loads of half-finished writings from years gone by, and partly I hope this site will encourage me to finish them or salvage what I can, and/or inspire me to write my adventures more succinctly and in a more timely manner.
I had been to see Combichrist in Glasgow’s Classic Grand, and after quite a few mental encounters outside – being given a CD by some woman in a band, then being verbally abused and threatened by a guy as he was shaking my hand, and having a young drunk guy ask if I’d ever seen his band play before revealing they’d only ever gigged in his mate’s front room – it was time to go home. I crossed the street and caught my bus down Paisley Road West.
There was a wee tiny skelf of a man sitting down the front of the bus, in a seat that faced up the gangway. He was sixty if he was a day, and could barely keep himself upright, his head too heavy to stay in one place – and yet he was trying his damnedest to pick a fight. He’d chosen, as his adversary, a near-sober, squat, well-built, forty-something guy sitting in the seat facing him. The drunk’s patter was going in increasingly-slurred circles.
“Waant a skwerr go?” he asked, trying to be tough and seeming like he meant it – despite the fact he couldn’t focus. “I’ll batter you. Outside, now!”
Oblivious to the fact he was on a bus, where stepping outside now wasn’t a viable option, he continued “I’ll batter you, you’ll see, aye that’s right,” and so on. His chosen adversary was remarkably tolerant (for a nightbus in Glasgow where you’ve been invited to square-go), answering non-threateningly but in that typically-unimpressed Glaswegian way – “Will ye, aye? Will ye? Right, then. Okay.”
The guy sitting next to me, three or four rows up the bus, kept laughing quietly to himself every now and then, amused by the spectacle, and I eventually asked him if this had been going on for a while. He told me the drunk took half an hour to get on, insisting to the driver that he’d given him £20. There’s a glass bit for the money – if he had, you’d see it. Finally, he had sat down and immediately started with his shit – which was still ongoing. “I’ll batter you!”
Round about Cessnock Underground, I looked up as someone came down the aisle from the back of the bus. He walked right down to the front, picked up the drunk guy’s rucksack – and casually lobbed it out of the door onto the pavement. He then returned, and in one move picked up the drunk, got him to the door, and shoved him out to land on top of it. With no sweat broken, he returned to his seat – interrupted only briefly as the chosen adversary shook him by the hand on the way past and said, with a smile, “Thanks for that.”
The driver, whatever his moral opinion of the situation might be, and no doubt biased by the £20 encounter and the general feeling on his bus, shut the doors and drove off. This was the impetus fora big fat craggy-faced wumman, with an equally craggy voice, like she’d smoked every cigarette ever rolled, to start having a go at the tolerant guy. “That’s terrible, that!” she said, and proceeded to verbally welly right into him. “I didnae dae nu’hin!” he protested. “It was the guy up there done it!” Seamlessly, and in a bemused manner, he demanded of nobody in particular “Have I got fuckin ‘talk to me’ wrote on my forehead?! Fucksake!”
Undeterred, she shouted up the bus at the removal man. “God’ll get you!”
“As long as he’s no’ got your fuckin voice!” the guy shouted back.
By now she was prattling away, repeating herself and nagging both of them. The remarkably tolerant guy loudly bemoaned his part in the whole thing, to nobody and everybody. “One -twenty-five for ma ticket, ah should’ve took a fuckin taxi!”
That was the catalyst, and anyone who wasn’t stifling a laugh by this point began laughing aloud, the whole bus in uproar. The patter between them was so fast, and so funny, as this one guy lamented his poor fortune, the woman chastised both of them, and the guy up the back genuinely didn’t give a fuck.
The removal man alighted at the next stop, whether because it was his stop or because he’d had enough. As he walked down the aisle, the wumman had a go at him again. He shrugged it off – “I’ve fuckin divorced worse than you,” he told her, and his audience. “Twice!”
It’s nights like that which make me love this city.
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.
I love the Subway, our Clockwork Orange, but they keep making the most incomprehensible changes to it. You can read dozens of the proposed ones here, most of them are contradictory or in the end came to nothing.
Our Subway runs from 6am until 11pm, give or take, except on a Sunday when it opens from 10am until 6pm. This is 2012, and the transport system in the centre of Glasgow is closed before the shops shut on a weekend shopping day. When they announce investment and improvement, the opening hours are never even mentioned for negotiation. They put in anti-terror bollards (to stop cars from driving down the escalators, but if you have a bomb in your backpack you’ll still get through); they planned to put in queue-beating Oyster-style ticketing as used in London, even though nobody has ever seen a queue on the Glasgow Subway, ever. Unless there was a match on at Ibrox, in which case A) who cares, let them queue, and B) Rangers are sinking fast anyway.
They are presently doing up all the stations, covering over the much-loved characteristic brick platforms with sterile white nondescript panelling, but still if you work in town on a Sunday you can’t use the Subway to get to your job if it starts before 10am. They recently said on Twitter that they’ve upgraded their website, as if that’s of any use to anybody living in this city and reliant on public transport that is closed when you need it. I noticed today, too, that they have done away with the bright yellow and orange posters listing the stations, and replaced them with generic, stylised, arty black and white and grey versions, which sit on the wall and blend into the adverts between which they sit – making them really difficult to spot at first glance. This is the kind of backward thinking that makes me hate Glasgow.
Most absurd of all, though, was the trial of late-night opening – when they remained shut. In order for the Subway to trial a night-time service, they closed the stations as normal and subcontracted the First Bus company to make all the same stops by road instead – which took longer, and cost more for a ticket, confusing the utter fuck out of everybody. Same stops, different prices, different method of transport entirely. The scheme flopped, unsurprisingly, and they used that to justify staying closed at night time. They want money and investment, but they’re not prepared to do the obvious thing that would encourage people to use their service: make it useful.
But at least the shiny white stations, with the upmarket ticket machines and silver steel bollards blocking the pavement outside, make it look like it might be functional.