After several years dotting about the local comedy scene, which saw my 100 stand-up gigs documented in the blog that preceded this one, I have decided to do my first solo show this year. Poster, descriptions, and ticket links follow below. I hope you can make it along, I expect it to be a one-off.
If you buy tickets online in advance, you will be entered into a draw to win some comedy DVDs – details here.
Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1488221281506109/
There have been two versions of the television show “Gladiators” screened in the UK. The first was hugely popular when I was a teenager, and the second was watched by nobody I have ever met. Both versions were based on the original American version which comedian Bill Hicks vilified, seeing it as a way for the government to keep the masses docile.
In the town where I grew up, a large local playing field was the site of an annual fete. I have no idea who organised it, or why, but there was the usual assortment of stalls, tents, displays, and the general family entertainments provided by magicians, jugglers, stilt-walkers and their ilk. The only year I remember going, the main attraction – in ever sense of that word – was a personal appearance by Diane Youdale, known at the time as Jet.
It seems strange in hindsight, that I joined a queue of however many others to catch a glimpse of a “celebrity” who was then a huge hit on national Saturday night television. Despite being a boy of 14 or 15, and thus the perfect age for it, I was one of the few folk I knew who did not have an almighty crush on her. Nevertheless, I stood in line with one or two of my friends, shuffling forward inside the kind of barrier arrangement normally seen in banks, post offices, or at airport security gates. Eventually we made it to the front, to the table at which she sat, and I was rewarded with a signed photograph and a friendly smile.
Thinking in my youth that celebrity meant something, I kept hold of the picture and probably still have it in a box somewhere. It will make a good illustration for this blog when I find it, so check back in five or ten years and see if I have had a clear-out by then. Jet, incidentally, is now a psychotherapist – as well as being the desired host of a proposed Alan Partridge programme.
My second encounter with a television Gladiator happened while I was doing some secondary work for my brother-in-law, who is a plumber to trade. He hired me for a few days when he needed a hand, and it emerged that the householder was in the show – which (true to my opening statement) neither of us had watched. She was extremely nice, and in the interest of maintaining her privacy I am not going into much detail. Her given title was Battleaxe., but she could not have been further from the traditional and insulting definition of that word.
While employed to work for her, a few jokes and turns of phrase sprang to mind – some in conversation, some while completing the tasks in hand. Within a couple of days I had a fully-formed routine which would slot straight into my stand-up set, comedy once being a hobby of mine. Grounded in fact, a little exaggeration or embellishment led to one of my favourite “bits” and one which almost always went down well with audiences. I am not a pro-active joke writer, and I take my inspiration where I find it. Given that it was the only time in my life I did any plumbing, it was fortuitous. Timing, as they say, is everything. Below is the material I came up with.
My brother-in-law is a plumber, and we recently did a job for one of TV’s Gladiators. Not one of the cool ones you’d have heard of, but from the new version which nobody’s seen.
So whereas in the old version it was “Can you feel the power of the Gladiators?” this was more “Can you fix the shower, and the radiators.”
I said “Where’s your boiler?” and she said “It’s up there.” I looked, and it was up a Travellator and across some monkeybars.
I said “What’s the access like?” She said “You just have to run the Gauntlet, and get past Wolf.”
John Anderson was there too. He said “Plumber, you will go on my first whistle. Gladiator, you will go on my second whistle.”
I don’t know if you have ever fixed a boiler while you are on a pedestal being hit with a pugil stick, but it’s not easy.
They hire professional athletes and it turned out this girl was an Olympic hammer-thrower, and she holds the record for the longest throw in Scotland.
It was my fucking hammer she threw. “I was using that!”
Took me a week to go and get it back.
I was glad she was a nice lassie though. See when I was at school, if the bullies took your bag off you they’d throw it over a wall or over a fence. If she took your bag off you it’d be [miming spinning a bag round head, like a hammer thrower, then letting go] Fuck ye! Off to France, going “Je voudrais ma bag back, s’il-vous-plait.”
[In reference to the mohawk I had] I reckon if I was a Gladiator they’d call me Nutjob. But then, that’s probably why there’s no Glaswegian Gladiators. “Contender, you will face Nutjob, Heidcase, Jakey, and Bam.”
Four big guys standing there going [arms folded, menacing] “What you wearing padding for, ya fuckin’ poof?”
Of the feedback I received after my various unpaid gigs, that piece was singled out for praise on a few occasions. I like it, and principally I write for myself and to hopefully be entertaining. So, if other people enjoy it I am happy. Here is some old and early footage of me nervously performing it while trying to stay within my strict five-minute spot on stage in Glasgow:
I did this material a lot, and eventually I gigged with somebody whose opening line addressed mine. He had written for the second series of the new season. In my defence, I was thirty that year, and cannot be blamed for no longer watching the same programmes that were required viewing when I was half that age. The fact that the most recent version was granted a second series means it must have had an audience. As every comedian knows or learns though, facts are not necessarily funny. Often they are just facts.
I kept my opening line as it was – nobody before or since has ever corrected it, which says as much about the viewing habits of the folk I have played to as it does about anything else.
Working for different film, TV, and theatre production companies, I have been based in various different stores and seen the facilities utilised by some of my colleagues for their personal kit. They vary in location and quality, but a couple of them have rented shipping containers on private land. It looks to be a convenient and reasonably low-cost option – shelved and racked on the inside to accomodate tools, equipment, and other occasionally essential gear.
One memorable job involved a visit to my friend’s lock-up. He has, or had, a place located down a side-street near Glasgow’s River Clyde. The short street was run-down, despite its proximity to the city centre, with the building that ran the length of one side displaying no intact windows. All were broken to some degree or missing entirely, with boards plugging the gaps behind the remaining shards. On the other side, two high Victorian buildings were both boarded up too.
Between these monuments, a connecting single-storey entranceway had been demolished, the rubble still piled high and adorned with illegally-dumped beds, mattresses, and other such junk. Our container was one of a dozen lined along the grounds, accessible by unlocking some Heras perimeter fencing, of the “mesh” type seen around every outdoor music event you have ever been to. Unfortunately, our ingress was prevented by half a dozen fly-tipped fridges. The abandoned white goods littered the kerbside directly in front of the only gate, and inevitably we would have to move them. “Let’s have some fun,” my friend said. “There’s spraypaint in the back. I’m thinking ‘robots’.”
We left the cab of our van, and manhandled the appliances into position. We stood them upright, and I dragged one onto its side and shunted it between others. Lying prone, I took rogue circuit boards and pipes and stuffed them into the door – the poor refrigerator’s guts spilling forth.
With our path cleared, the gate was duly opened and we walked the short distance to the line of units. Andy – everybody in this industry is called Paul or Andy, in my experience – proceeded to the first blue cabin in a line of red ones, their vibrant colours long since faded. He jammed the key into the padlock, and it yielded with ease. Removing it, he swung open the first of the double doors.
His store contains shelves and racking, powertools and crates of assorted gear, workspace and associated art implements. None of that was visible. There was only one thing in the container – a silver hatchback. The vehicle comfortably filled the space, and I became acutely aware of my surroundings. It was dark and wet, a Glasgow evening in a deserted and vandalised area – us alone by the ruins of an old building, by a length of shipping crates. Is this not how films start? I joked that I had better not find a dead body inside, shining a torch into the rear window and peering through. In my head, somebody silently appeared behind us, two bullets swiftly ensuring we could never speak of our discovery.
It was not much of a discovery, although I must admit I gave the interior only a cursory glance. I had no desire to lay my eyes on a corpse, nor on any conspicuous plastic sheeting. This was close enough to an abandoned docks to put me in mind of a dozen crime film cliches. The greater question, for Andy at least, involved the contents he had expected to see. The key fitted the padlock perfectly, and he had to wonder if his possessions had been stolen, then replaced with a car. It seemed an odd way to commit burglary, and was quickly discounted.
He had only been to this location twice before, and all he could recall was that he had a blue container. Resecuring Box Number One, he tried his key in Box Number Two. This padlock complied as well. In we went, retrieving the items for which we had come, while light-heartedly pondering our abilities to hotwire the motor next door – evidently these two containers had locks that shared an identical cut of key.
With our gear subsequently loaded onto the van and the location secured. we grabbed tins of spraypaint. This would be a fun end to the day. Andy set about giving the fridges eyes and mouths, and I liberally applied red – blood – to the deceased one. I tried to give it crosses for eyes, but the rain lying on it its surface hindered the effort. It was like painting a puddle, if you have ever attempted that or can imagine how ineffective it would be. Nevertheless, a few photographs were taken to preserve the moment, and we quietly disappeared into the night. The killer cannibal robot refrigerators stayed behind, gathered around their fallen victim.
I love a good practical joke, and it is that shared sense of cameraderie and physical humour which has always drawn me to working backstage and in related environments.
It is especially easy to get up to mischief when you have creative skills or the access to them. Very light things can be made to look identical to very heavy things, for example. One theatre I worked in has a polystyrene stage weight which – from a distance – is indistinguishable from the real thing. I had been there for a while before I saw it used, when the technical manager carried it level with the genuine weight in his other hand. He lowered and gently dropped the real one, then looked up and casually tossed the fake to the visiting production manager. I still remember the latter’s reaction, and am laughing at the recollection.
When I was studying, the lead carpenter convinced the designer that she should step inside the coffin they had built. He even managed to explain away the reason for placing the lid on top, and by the time the other guys had begun screwing it in position it was too late for her to do anything but accept the fact.
Those are my favourite jokes, the daft ones that involve everyone. No victimisation, no malice, just inclusive good fun. Today it is you dribbling juice on yourself because somebody pierced a hole near the top of your soda bottle. Tomorrow it is me trying to retrieve my hooded top, from its position tied to a flying bar stationed eight-feet above a freshly-painted stage floor.
The very best jokes, though, are the ones that are set up months or perhaps years in advance. Sometimes you do not even see the pay-off, but if someone else does then it is all worthwhile. I know of a theatre workshop which houses five identical adjustable spanners, one of which is plastic and came from a childrens play set. Its handle is taped and spraypainted in line with the real articles, and it was to my delight that I once witnessed a visiting crew member rush in and grab the kid-on one. A rare occurrence, but they keep it there just for that chance moment and I love that.
I consider myself pretty canny, not least because my keen wit means I instigate at least as many japes as I am party to. It is still possible to catch me out though. Recently, during a day working in the Care Home set of a local soap opera, my colleague (a permanent staff member there) asked me to open the door at one end of the room. I was suspicious – his ruse was not completely believable – but I was willing to play along. When I pulled the door handle I discovered that it, and the frame into which it was built, was a standalone unit. It is just a door in a frame, which can be positioned against any blank wall to give the illusion of further access points. “I love getting people with that,” he told me.
My birthday is in September, and one of my closest friends now lives next door to me. When I returned from running an errand on the day, I found that she had been busy in my absence. The dying bunch of flowers which had been destined for her bin were instead seconded and used as decoration. They joined a scribbled note which proclaimed “oontz” once in lipstick and ten more times in ink. When I walked into our close, the first thing I had noticed was the candle lightbulb on the floor. She had added it because it looked “industrial” (the type of music that we met through the love of), but its weight had defeated the sellotape used to attach it. I laughed hard at her efforts, and appreciate them more than she maybe knows.
Within a week, I had decided how to get her back. I hit upon something simple, easy, and guaranteed to entertain her – all I had to do was wait until Christmas. For three long months I held on, not daring to share my plan with anybody in case word got back to her. If you know me at all, you know that I can be trusted to keep your most precious secret safe for eternity. However, I find it very difficult not to share jokes, laughter, funny stories, or any other form or source of wit. I can be the worst conspirator, as I find it hard to keep a straight face at times – especially in the final build-up.
Weeks and months passed, during which I hinted that her door would be attacked at Christmas time. I knew that she would never expect what I had in mind, and I bluffed by attaching a tacky foil wreath to her door while she was out one day. Finally, after the longest time, I was able to enact my plan. I took the necessary measurements, prepared everything, then quietly set to work. On the morning of the 25th of December, the entrance to her flat looked like this:
Sadly, she did not respond to my knocks. I had to carefully peel up the bottom right corner, chap, and then quickly tape it back down before she answered. She did not answer, and I had to leave before she eventually emerged. I had wanted to capture her reaction on video, but I would not have seen it anyway, hidden behind a wall of paper – paper that she had already described as “the gayest” (she was with me in the shop when I bought it, haha. There is unsuspecting for you.)
Today, late on Boxing Day, I finally saw her. She said that it took her by surprise, as she only saw it as she was running out the door. She told me that she burst through it by punching her way out of it, which I regret not seeing. Like I noted above, though, my favourite jokes are the ones which take time to set up and which work whether they are seen by others or not.
I am certain that, upon posting this, I will remember other examples from my eighteen years in and around the industry. It is hard not to love a job, or hobby, which allows you such a degree of fun in the breaks while you are otherwise conducting yourself professionally. Just do it, lighten your co-workers’ life. Or your friend’s, or anybody else’s. Smile and the world smiles with you. It does not take much to brighten your day.
I have recently joined a new mobile network, my third this year. They offered cheap and unlimited internet access for my laptop, for a reasonable price. As ever with these things, though, there were a few teething issues.
I have put my new SIM card into my old phone, which is now permanently connected to the computer. I use it as a modem, sharing my signal with the laptop through a process known as “tethering.” I did this before, but having now unlocked my phone and joined another network, I am finally permitted to. Being acceptable under the terms of my contract, I phoned the company’s technical support line to get some help understanding why it was giving me problems. To her credit, the girl I spoke to was able to guide me through the process, and she sent me a text for future reference.
As I read it, this message tells me that to get help using my phone as a modem, I need to go online using my phone as a modem. A lovely paradox, and a fittingly absurd entry for this blog.
I have mentioned previously that I once worked, in a temporary capacity, for the Inland Revenue (as it then was.) Regular readers know that all the stories I tell here are my own, observed by me and not apocryphal. Everything I document I can substantiate, with further background detail and facts as appropriate.
This is a break from the norm, a story told by a colleague who had the desk opposite mine. I cannot vouch for its authenticity, but he told it well and I have told it often since, without ever encountering it in any other form or from any other source. I am not sure how it will translate to the written word, but told with gusto it is very entertaining.
My workmate had previously been in the army, relating an incident that occurred when they were on manoeuvres, or out training in some capacity. His team were hidden in the undergrowth on the side of a hill, above a road that cut across the landscape but which gave way to a valley on the other side. My friend had control of the unit’s radio, being taken aback when suddenly, from nowhere, a landrover came roaring up the road. It took off when it hit the crest, bouncing down and continuing on its way at some speed.
Next thing, another landrover comes after it, flying up the road but missing it when it lands. The landrover tumbles down the hillside, while my friend looks to his group for advice. If this were war, the enemy vehicle would not trouble them. However, being an exercise, he is unsure whether to call it in or not – technically these are his comrades, and they may need help. He reaches for the dial. Suddenly, from behind him, high up on the hill, he hears his commanding officer bellow “don’t touch that radio!”
He looks round, and sees his sergeant (or whatever rank he may be) tearing down the hillside. He is red in the face, leaping over rocks and tearing through heather, vaulting over prostrate soldiers and small shrubs. Shocked into inaction, my friend again hears the same shouted command:
“Don’t touch that fucking radio!”
My friend is at a loss, already unaware of the correct course of action and now unsure of the intentions of his superior. His superior is still charging over the terrain, making the final leap that lands him in the ditch next to my friend. Without a word, he grabs the radio and immediately screams into it “there’s a rover rolled-over, over.”
Turning to my friend, he smiles and says “I’ve waited fucking years to say that!”
I used to work for the Inland Revenue, long before it was renamed Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and at the time when Working and Child Tax Credits were being introduced.
It was an alright job, for what it was, and it gave me an insight into civil service life and how much money is (or was) squandered there. My job was to check data that had scanned incorrectly when the application forms went through OCR, by calling people up or issuing letters to enquire whether their name was John (as common sense would dictate) rather than what the computer had read and input as j04n. Initially, such judgement calls were disallowed, and I had many embarrassing conversations asking for details that seemed obvious.
We processed a huge number of claims, so efficiently that our contracts were repeatedly extended while other centres in the UK wound down. There were incidences of two teams in the same building working on the same caseload, though, and occasionally we would contact people or read notes only to find out that someone else had done the same work an hour earlier. We came in at night and worked for a few hours, getting attitude from the permanent day staff whose desks we had to use. I signed the Official Secrets Act before starting there, and at the time I was convinced it was so I could not tell anyone how badly the place was run.
It is my firm belief that nobody is truly incompetent until they work for the government.
I was part of a small team working in a huge glass-walled office building, and we got on well. We would socialise together, initially sharing jokes and collaborating on the paper’s cryptic crossword when the work dried up, as it frequently did during the evening. As we worked through printed lists of National Insurance numbers, pulling up files and generating letters or making calls as appropriate, there was a great sense of camaraderie. Being young, and perceiving incompetence within the methodology and managers, we were passively rebellious. All of us took smoking breaks, regardless of nicotine intake, and the best days were Sundays and Bank Holidays. These were voluntary, and you would be assigned to some supervisor who did not know you. Many were the hours of taxpayers money wasted as we sat and played Solitaire instead of doing paperwork. You had to be careful, though – if it was dark outside, and you were sitting facing into the office (so your monitor display could not be seen), the reflection of it in the window was occasionally noticed.
One colleague successfully used the Jedi Mind Trick on our boss, when asked to hand in a contract renewal form. He waved his hand in front of the gaffer’s face, telling him “I already gave you it back.” The boss moved away, before realising this was an untruth.
Another friend asked me to join her on a smoking break, during a Bank Holiday shift when we were being largely unmonitored. Outside, with no cigarettes, we jumped into her van and drove to the shops. On the way back, being a nice day, she suggested a detour. I had no real choice, given that hers was the sole mode of transport back to the office, and it was not ideally situated for walking. I do not advocate skiving, and I am ordinarily conscientious and hard-working. However, as it really was a nice day, and since we were driving past the park anyway, I had no issue with stopping for a while.
Admittedly, drinking a recreational drug, then hiring a pedalo and cruising on the park’s lake, might have been taking the piss a wee bit. If every smoking break lasted ninety minutes and included a boat-ride in the sunshine, while paid on the company’s time, I would take up the habit.
To reiterate, I do not condone this as the actions of a responsible adult. However, I was only twenty-two at the time – an adult, but still irresponsible. We were on temporary contracts with definite end-dates, and I was starting my degree that year, and so I held no real fear of repercussion.
Entry to the building was, as you may imagine, strictly controlled. Photographic ID was issued, and checked by security guards manning the front doors. Nobody was exempt, and our shift began with several hundred people filing past the uniformed staff glancing at every pass. It seemed to me that they did not always give their full attention to the job, and in my last week I elected to have some fun.
I wanted to find a picture of a gorilla, that I could cut out and stick over my photo. I am not saying that they were lax, but as I write that sentence I realise that it is indicative of the solemnity with which we did not treat this job. I cannot fathom, now, that I would ever pull that stunt while working for a high-profile authoritative department. At the time, it was in keeping with our collective attitude, but I failed to find an appropriate photo (this being the age before the internet really took off, when Encarta was as close as you got to a Google image search.) I did manage to locate an image of Al Pacino, however, and duly substituted it. Nobody noticed, at all.
I endeavoured to make the point, kicking subtlety out of the window and jettisoning the star of Dog Day Afternoon. I needed something bolder, something so ridiculous that to not spot it would be hilariously inept. I found a book that had been an unwanted present, setting about it with a pair of scissors and deftly removing the face of another movie icon. I attached it over my own headshot, and the next day – my last – I walked into the office unchallenged, despite having a photographic ID card that, in place of me, bore the likeness of Darth Vader.
Before condemning the desk staff for being particularly unobservant, it is worth noting that I was very visually recognisable in those days. The dress code was “no football shirts, nothing offensive” and I took that to the extreme. This later became a staple of my stand-up set, but every word of it is true, right down to the final, contemporary observation:
“When I was 20, everyone had wallet chains. I had a wallet chain and four pairs of handcuffs, hanging from the belt-loops of my blue camouflage combats. Those were tucked into my calf-high Doc Martens, and I wore them with a band t-shirt. On top of that, I wore a white doctors coat, and on the back of it I painted ‘Trust Me’ in red, so it looked like blood. The sleeves were rolled up and on the left forearm I wore a black leather spiked armband, which ran from wrist to elbow with spikes two-inches high all down it. On the other arm, I had a smaller armband, with smaller spikes. On my head, I wore a black top hat.
I might have looked like a dick, but I had a fucking cool shadow.”
Except where necessary, I try to avoid name-dropping while writing these blogs.
The many dubious claims to fame are deliberately chosen for being precisely that – dubious. Some of them are extremely tenuous, and the majority could have happened to anybody were the circumstances right. As far as possible, I try to avoid mentioning things that have occurred while I have been working in a professional capacity. An oft-condemned trait in the theatre industry is the tendency for everyday stage crew members to brag online about having “worked with” some star name. Working alongside, in the vicinity of, or for, are not the same as working “with” someone. Especially not if it is a touring show which only played in your venue for one night.
That said, this entry is about a nonsensical piece of writing that I wish to give a wider audience, and so I feel able to freely name the actor involved. He could have remained anonymous, but as I am quoting his joke in full it is courteous to credit the source.
Many Glaswegians will be familiar with Dean Park, either from his regular radio shows or from his comic turns on stage, most recently in pantomime. I worked on three pantomimes that he was in, and each year the cast and crew all contributed to a “Secret Santa” as we were working together over the Christmas period. Everybody draws one name from a hat, and buys that person a gift – thus, in a company of thirty people, everyone buys and receives one gift. My recipient was to be Dean.
He was playing the dame, welcoming the audience with a string of jokes appropriate to the range of ages who typically attend such shows. He told them how he was so poor growing up that one year all he got for Christmas was a dooroo-dooroo. He explained that a dooroo-dooroo is when you take an empty toilet-roll tube, put one end to your lips, and proclaim through it “dooroo dooroo!”
My gift to him, then, was in part a homemade dooroo-dooroo. I decorated a toilet-roll tube with several colours of glitter paint, making the piece of cheap cardboard look undeservingly ornate, and I fabricated a history of the instrument which I printed and enclosed. Having recently found it again on my computer, I decided to reproduce it here:
The History Of The Dooroo-Dooroo
The Dooroo Dooroo, the inside of a lavvy roll tube which one to puts to ones lips and proclaims “dooroo dooroo”, seems to have first come to prominence in late Victorian Britain. It was at this time, in the late 1800s, that parlour games first became popular as evening entertainment. Alongside parlour magic, séances, ‘Blind Man’s Bluff’ and ‘Hide the Sausage’, it became common for the landed gentry to spend hours listening to popular tunes of the day reinterpreted through this cheap and cheerful instrument. One of the most noted professional Dooroodoorooers was one Roger Twatt, who transformed himself –through his talent – from London street urchin to Prime Minister in 1898.
Queen Victoria herself was a closet Dooroodoorooer, and loved nothing more than to stand by her beloved Prince Albert’s grave once a year playing solemn songs through a gold-plated Dooroo Dooroo (this was at one time part of the treasured Crown Jewels, kept in the Tower of London, but was eventually given to India as reparations after the British gave up their colonisation of that country).
The Dooroo Dooroo has gone from strength to strength over the years. It was used throughout both world wars to keep morale up and in the absence of a bugle it could be used for Reveille. Even during the Depression of the Thirties many families made use of hand-me-down Dooroo Dooroos to keep their spirits up. In the Fifties, it gave way to the electric guitar as the basis for popular music (having been used exclusively by The Count Basie Orchestra and The Glenn Miller Band until then). Its popularity was reinstated in the Sixties, however, and it continues to feature heavily in music to this day.
Over the years the Dooroo Dooroo has proved itself a versatile instrument. It has spanned musical genres, appearing in various popular songs, in the lyrics to further songs, and even had songs written about it. From Cab Calloway’s Minnie the Moocher (“hey de hey de hey de hey, ho de ho de ho de ho, dooroo dooroo” – the final line was edited from the version that appears in The Blues Brothers), to The Beatles Love Me Dooroo Dooroo. Its highest-profile appearance must surely be in the interminable Bryan Adams hit, from Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, “Everything I Do (I Dooroo Dooroo).”
Sinatra gave it credence when, in My Way, he sang “I did what I had to Dooroo Dooroo”, and even punk act Splodgenessabounds name-checked it in their classic anthem Two Pints Of Lager (And A Dooroo Dooroo Please).
As the new owner of this limited-edition Dooroo Dooroo, we hope it gives you many hours of pleasure and that you too can help carry on the tradition of this wonderful and under-rated instrument.
I have a friend who studied the history of art, in her American home state.
While chatting online, she mentioned that she was having issues with an assignment, and I offered to help her with it. Given that I have never studied the subject in any detail, which she knew, the chances of me being able to help her – even before considering the moral and ethical questions of plagiarism and passing-off – were slim. Nevertheless, she copied and pasted the question and sent it to me.
I cannot claim to understand what is being asked, although I have also never considered it in the correct context. Instead, I wrote a response that roughly addresses all of the points raised, without actually relating it either to art or to history. For all that it is not a serious piece of writing, I do rather like it for the strange theories it posits. I say “it posits” rather than “I posit” as I do not recall putting much thought into it. I sat and just wrote, producing a stream-of-conscious response that has a kind of logic to it, despite being complete nonsense.
“Personal interaction with objects, images and spaces can be so powerful as to change the way one thinks about particular issues or topics. For your intended area of study (art history), describe an experience where instruction in that area or your personal interaction with an object, image or space affected this type of change in your thinking. What did you do to act upon your new thinking and what have you done to prepare yourself for further study in this area?”
My personal interaction with objects, images and space has taken on many guises since long before I first read this enthralling question. Some of these interactions have been more powerful than others – the time I sneezed up a lung in a site-specific work called “Roomful of Dust”, versus the time I blinked whilst haphazardly gazing at “Statue with Traffic Cone Hat” for example.
My problem is not with how I perceive and react to space, but how space interacts and copes with me. Now, presuming that there is a finite amount of space within our atmosphere, we are all of us confined within the limits of the earth and its surrounding stratosphere. The human race is expanding at a rate hitherto unprecedented, and as every new person is born, a little of the existing space is pushed outwards. So, initially, when history began, the sky was quite literally just above people’s heads. With time, as the world population has expanded, the sky has expanded continuously upward and outward until it reached its present upper limit. This was in the mid-eighties.
When the limit was reached, every new person, growing (as is a person’s wont), caused untold pressure to build up on the existing space until, when the pressure grew too much, it burst a hole in the Ozone and the surplus space escaped. So you see, the population of the world continues to grow and we are now pushing out all the remaining space. One day, possibly within our lifetimes (unless by some miracle – possibly cellphone radiation) we either, as humans, stop fornicating wantonly or become entirely impotent. Certainly, for as long as the population increases, the surer we will eventually run out of space and perish as a species.
When I first saw space, I realised how very little of it there can be in one place (I selfishly keep some in a box in my attic for emergencies.) Some people look at this space and decide to have it for themselves – we started small by finding space in Australia and America for our convicts. Now these countries have grown and populated, they need space for themselves and, short of concreting over the ocean, the moon is probably our next best option. Well, that or People Control. Some sort of enforced euthanasia may be required.
I am keeping my personal space box at a secret location, underground (a further irony – by digging space for my box of space, I have incrementally reduced further the amount of space between the ground and the sky), as I believe that in the very near future I will be able to sell it on Ebay for a huge amount. Whether I have any use for the money at the point when space becomes so valuable remains to be seen, by the three or so people left alive to see it. Looting space may be the next big craze – we can only watch television for so long before our brains melt into our socks and cats lick at the pureed remnants of wasted genius. That will be fun to watch, so the process of writing this piece has affected my thinking – I’d never thought of that before. Yes, when people become one with their sofas and gradually dissolve into a grey gloop in front of banal ‘celebrity’ based shows, that will have a profound effect on me. Though, granted, not as profound effect as it will have on those who take the time to ooze slowly back to the primeval sludge from which we all once grew.
I hope you appreciate the space this piece has taken out of the remaining years of my life, and the space it has taken up on my hard drive, as well as the space in my brain that I have allocated to formulating this discourse. Now it’s taking up space in my drinking time, so go, read, learn, digest, enjoy, and when you’ve done all that – go watch some TV (this final suggestion is my preparation for further study – sooner you watch, the sooner you melt)
I used to work for the catalogue firm Index, one of only two companies encapsulating pictures of their products in glossy books rather than following the more conventional method of putting items on display.
Index ceased trading in the mid-2000s, shortly after I stopped working for them, though I imagine it was unrelated. It was obvious that the company was in trouble, inasmuch as we noticed that less and less staff were being hired to replace those who left. To this day, when asked if I cope well under pressure, I recall that Boxing Sunday when I single-handedly manned the customer service desk while also broadly overseeing the collection desk, jewellery counter, and till points. The queue for returns was so long that its end rarely made it within the confines of the shop, people lined up all the way to the front door and spilling into the shopping mall beyond.
At the time, I hated the job – or, more specifically, most of the customers – but in hindsight I enjoyed the responsibility I was afforded. The staff were good fun too, and there was a healthy cameraderie between us. Like any working environment, there were issues and grievances, but on the whole we got on, worked well together, shared a very bawdy sense of humour, and socialised frequently. We were young and carefree, twenty-somethings who did not take the work entirely seriously. At least three of us were regularly pulled up for poor time-keeping, the reason that I eventually quit, and one of my friends lost her job due to repeated lateness. She went in crying and pleading to be given another chance, was given that chance, and then – come her next shift – decided she had had enough, and stayed home. In retrospect, it is not exactly commendable behaviour, although probably on a par with the majority of attitudes at that age.
A year after I left, my old manager phoned me about a rather more serious matter. One of the women had made allegations against the most charismatic of the stockroom staff, accusing him of sexual harrassment. It was laughable, but policy dictated that it was treated with due gravity. I did not give much truck to the claims, as the guy in question was a friend who had a steady girlfriend and who – although his humour could be coarse and perverse – did not stand out any more than anyone else because of this. His boss, for one, was a dirty old man in the making, as I often joked with them both.
The other reason that it was laughable is that the complainant herself often instigated as many filthy comments as she was now calling inappropriate. She was short, bespectacled, and somewhere in her forties – it was hard to be sure, as she had the haggard face of a lifelong smoker, and the cough to go with it. There is little attractive about somebody who laughs in a manner that suggests they may be about to hack up a lung. As I understood it, her action had proved divisive in the little shop of thirty staff. The managers had to try and remain diplomatically neutral, but I got the impression that of those thirty staff twenty-nine thought she was “at it.”
In defence of my friend, I thought back to an incident some time previously, at one of the periodic staff nights out. This woman had produced, unwarranted, a bag of assorted genital-themed accessories, the most memorable of them being penis straws and earrings similarly shaped like the male member. She was in no way the chaste, put-upon innocent that she was now claiming to be. In truth, the thought of her naked would not so much turn you on as turn your stomach. In a building full of twenty-year-olds, she was not getting much of a look in, and this accusation looked like a bid to effortlessly secure a sizeable payout. I heard no more about the case, and am uncertain as to how it ended.
The conversation at that night out, at a table littered with shaped foil confetti and the remnants of explicit straws, was of a suitably risque nature. Drink flowed, and one of our supervisors was introduced to the term “sixty-nine.” This mutual sex act, named for the position of the bodies in relation to the figure 69, had hitherto bypassed our good Catholic boss.
You know that way, when you hear something for the first time, have a few drinks, and then later try to refer to your new knowledge but with only a vague recollection as to what it was? Thus we were all treated to the inebriated question “what is it again, forty-seven?”
It is hard to know what a 47 would look like, and it does not lend itself to seeming particularly comfortable. If any keen experimenters want to figure it out and let me know, I will be happy to share your findings.
At least she knew better than to call it a ninety-nine. There has been no point in anybody’s life, lying naked in bed with a partner, when one of them has interrupted coitus to say “honey, you know what I want to try right now? An ice-cream cone with a flake in it.”
With a remark like that, you would be guaranteed to make the bedroom cold enough to prevent your ice-cream from melting.