Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Eating

A Nice Meal And An Unwanted Free Gift.

I went to a local restaurant last week, and managed to get a skelf (depending on your location, also known as a splinter, spelk, or sliver) in the bend of my thumb. It came from the chair I was sitting on, but as my working life has involved moving lots of timber I was unphased. I have had and removed dozens of skelfs. This being the case, I sent the establishment a very tongue-in-cheek email about it – as always, for my own amusement. I half thought they might offer me a voucher of some kind, but instead they have neglected to reply.

Here is the letter I wrote:

I was in for a family meal on Tuesday night (9th September), and we were seated at tables opposite a banquette. At one point, in order to facilitate the duties of our waitress, I reached down to grasp my chair in order to move it forward – allowing her access between the chair backs and the wall.

Unfortunately, during this process of intended helpfulness, I felt a sharp pain in my right thumb. Without doubt, I got a deep skelf from your furniture. It went straight into the interphalangeal joint, a term I had to look up because hand anatomy is not my speciality, and I did not mention it at the time as I thought I had managed to successfully remove it.

On Wednesday, with the swelling that accompanied the wound turning septic, I was able to extract the remainder of the skelf – a splinter of several millimetres length.

As this small piece of wood is technically your property, I write to ask if you would like me to return it. I kind of hope not, since it seemed a poor souvenir of a nice evening and I binned it, before realising that it did not really belong to me. I can, however, send you a photo of the skelf (both embedded and removed) if this will enable you to have a replica made and reattached to the seat.

Let me know if this is of interest to you, and please accept my apologies for not being able to return the original.

Tomorrow is Thursday, and I am hopeful that the swelling (due to its location) will go down, allowing me to fully bend my thumb without discomfort once more. I trust the chair has exhibited no serious ill-effects.

skelf in thumb

Update: The restaurant never did respond, other than to add my email address to their mailing list. When I posted this on their Facebook, it was quickly deleted. I have not been back.

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Baguette Out Of Jail Free. (A Reply)

I bought a supermarket sandwich which purported to contain beef, but which revealed itself to be mislabelled and instead held only tuna fish. This is the second time I have had an issue centred around the simple concept of bread with a filling, so I wrote them this light-hearted complaint. Below is their reply.
The previous, unrelated correspondence can be read here.

Good morning.

Thank you for contacting us.  I am very sorry that, again, you have been disappointed with your purchase of a sandwich from our [location redacted] store.  I would like to offer my apologies for any anguish caused when you discovered it contained tuna instead of beef. 

 

This is clearly not acceptable and therefore we secured the services of Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Magnum PI, Inspector Morse and of course those two lovely ladies, Rosemary & Thyme to get to the bottom of this mystery.  Although they could not identify the culprit, all staff involved in the preparation and packing of our sandwiches have been retrained in the correct processes to follow and we are confident that this type of situation should not occur again in the future. 

 

Please be assured that no genetic modification has taken place; we do not even use catfish or dogfish, never mind breeding underwater cattle!  It has simply been a case of human error, to which we as a species are prone occasionally, and I hope you can forgive this oversight. 

 

We would not want our customers to be disappointed with anything that they buy from us and we would not even think to pass our tuna off as being sea-horse meat.  In view of the fact that you are now out of pocket, I will be sending you a £5.00 shopping voucher which will be posted out to you shortly.

 

Please let me apologise to you once again and I sincerely hope that we may retain your valued custom; and trust that all your future purchases will be entirely satisfactory, with the contents being exactly as described on the label. 

 

Kind regards,
[name redacted]

Customer Services Department
Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC


Baguette Out And Don’t Come Back.

This is a light-hearted letter of complaint. Read the reply I received here.

Dear [national supermarket chain],

I have previously complained about the sandwich department of my local store, a letter which I published (along with your response) on my blog and which you retweeted. It was read over a thousand times on the back of that. In contrast, when I wrote about magician Paul Daniels cutting my head off he retweeted it and it received only a hundred or so views. Granted, it is no longer the 1980s and your name is undoubtedly now more recognisable than his, to many. You may remember the missive in question, and it remains one of the most popular things I have ever written – barring the possible documentation of a future attempt at my live on-stage decapitation by Dynamo.

Today, I was feeling a little peckish, and lazy, and browsed the selection of freshly-made sandwiches on offer at your store. I decided to opt for the age-old classic combination of beef and onion, served on a baguette and thus a handy, substantial meal fit for a king. To be clear, I am not a king and neither do I have kingly aspirations. I do, however, have an appetite and the usual skeletal and biological means of sating it.

I purchased the sandwich in the standard manner, carrying it back to my home as it was unable to walk there of its own accord, being a sandwich. I put the rest of my shopping away – I had picked up a few other items, the goal of my trip not being the sole acquisition of some ready-made lunch – and prepared to devour the delicious feast you had carefully hand-prepared. Alas, upon removing it from the protective paper wrapper I realised that something seemed fishy. Specifically, it smelled fishy, and before I took a bite I used my years of experience to my advantage. I removed the top portion of the bread, and was dismayed to find, inside, that somebody had sneakily stolen the beef and onion filling and replaced it entirely with tuna and cucumber.

Beef tuna baguetteAbove: Proof, if proof be need be.

I considered the events of the recent past. Nobody had tampered with the sandwich in my home, as I live alone (hence having time to write letters like these). I had definitely not switched the contents myself, so that ruled me out of my enquiries. Nobody had approached me walking between the shop and my house, so it seemed unlikely that the subterfuge had occurred on the journey. That meant the culprit must surely be located in the branch itself. The cashier – I believe in giving my custom to humans and not to machines, so never use the self-service checkouts that too many supermarket chains now provide – she had an honest face and I am inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. The answer – the guilt – must surely lie with whoever made and/or labelled the product. It would not be the first time.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought an alleged “corned beef slice” which, once my teeth were in it (I mean I bit into it, I didn’t take them out and add them to the mixture inside), revealed itself to be some kind of spiced steak pastry. It was not unpleasant, but it was also not what I thought I was buying. On that occasion I did not complain, admittedly. Anyone who thinks they are buying corned beef and who instead receives steak has, in the local vernacular, won a watch. At least you managed to mix up two types of meat from the same animal. Today’s mistake was just farcical.

It raises a few concerns, which I hope you will take the time to address and answer fully. This is very important to me, as a regular customer of several years standing. Obviously I am standing (or walking) when I am in your branches, and not rolling along the aisles on my sides like a child going down a hill in a park. That would be silly and I daresay your staff would politely ask that I stop. I mean, as you will have inferred, that I have given you a lot of money over a long period of time. My questions are valid and require answers.

So, regarding this tuna and cucumber baguette which was masquerading as a far nicer beef and onion one:

– Was this an ill-timed April Fools prank? If so, the joke is on you because I bought it on the 2nd of April.

– Is your beef dolphin-friendly?

– Did you deliberately substitute tuna for beef due to worries about BSE or its human equivalent CJD? If so, in future I would rather take my chances and not have that decision made for me. You can make my sandwiches, but not my decisions.

– Were you lamenting the passing of the horsemeat scandal, and thinking that you could engineer a tuna fish scandal under the misguided belief that “no publicity is bad publicity”? I am not falling for your ruse, if so. It was blatantly tuna fish. At least the horsemeat suppliers tried to hide the fact.

– Are you participating in some programme of genetic modification which involves the breeding of underwater cattle? Do you farm tuna fish on land, putting them out to pasture and letting them graze freely? Is this how the mix-up has occurred?

As a major retailer, you will be well-versed in The Sale Of Goods Act 1979 (as amended). This clearly states that, legally, items sold must be “as described” – you are evidently in breach of this statute. I think this incident may also be covered by the Misrepresentation Act 1967, whether the misrepresentation was fraudulent, negligent, or innocent. That said, I am not a lawyer. I am just an average guy who enjoys the occasional sandwich and who is sometimes too lackadaisical to make his own.

When I do make my own sandwiches, you can be certain that there is never – never, mind you – tuna fish in them. The only fish I ever eat is battered, although I don’t think it comes out the sea that way. I can’t say, I’m no fisherman.

Having established that I am neither a lawyer nor a fisherman, I am also not a binman. This comes as some relief to me at the present time, as that sandwich is going to start reeking soon. It went straight in the refuse, uneaten. Nice try, but you never got me.

As I see it, you owe me £2.20 and – more importantly – a series of answers to the questions I have asked. You can reply with your tongue in your cheek – I welcome that – but you can’t sell me hidden tuna fish in your sandwiches. I won’t stand for it, and that’s not an opportunity for you to bring out a chair.

I await your response with interest – quite a high level of interest, but not in the financial sense.

Yours sincerely,

[me]

Beef tuna tweetsAbove: Where the fun started.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Substandard Sandwiches.

My tongue-in-cheek letter of complaint to the local supermarket. Submitted via their website. They have since replied.

I enjoy the range of fresh sandwiches that is generally available from my local store. A particular favourite is the recently-introduced “meat feast” sub roll, a hearty and satisfying combination of meats, cheese, sauce, and salad.

It certainly seems to be a popular choice. As often as not there are none of this specific sandwich left on the shelf when I call in for whatever messages I have decided to populate my fridge and cupboards with. You can imagine my delight today when, with a hankering for just such a concoction, I discovered one lone remaining “meat feast” in the chiller cabinet. I deftly transferred it to the basket in my hand, and proceeded to do the rest of my shopping.

I would not say that I was in your shop a terribly long time, and when I returned home some minutes later – I live in very close proximity to your store – I put the sandwich straight in the fridge, along with other chilled and perishable goods.

With the sandwich safely in my possession, carefully stowed in a cool environment, I went about my business until the moment when hunger struck. I let the pangs build, until my longing to satisfy the craving was beyond control. Then, and only then, did I retrieve this delicious morsel from its chilled home – and that is, sadly, where it all went wrong.

The sticker on the front of the packaging alerts me, proudly, to the fact that it was “prepared in store.” Unfortunately, it does not suggest precisely when this might have been. Judging by how stale the bread was, I would imagine that it was prepared some time in the past fortnight. What crushing disappointment!

I had dreamt of that sandwich, I had held off to the very last moment to savour it, and here it taunted me by being virtually impenetrable. Not wishing to cause myself the need for expensive dental work, I did not immediately bite into the end of the roll. Rather, I used it to hammer in a couple of nails in the hope that that might soften it sufficiently to render it edible. No such luck.

The filling was every bit as tasty as I had imagined, I was just saddened that I had to remove it from the normally-delectable sub roll in order to consume it. The bread roll was a write-off, unfit for purpose and swiftly consigned to the rubbish bin. To clarify, that is the bin for rubbish – it is not in itself a rubbish bin. It is actually a very good bin, which has served me well and which I am as fond of as any sane person can reasonably claim to be fond of a refuse receptacle.

I am no scientist, but I find it difficult to believe that the roll achieved this level of staleness in the time between it leaving your fridge and entering mine. I admit that it was the first thing that I put in my basket, but taking it for a stroll around your shop should not have induced such rapid onset of inedibility. Similarly, two or possibly three hours in my refrigerator ought not to have adversely affected it in this way.

I did consider returning it to the store in question, but I am not in the habit of taking sandwiches for walks. Certainly not twice in one day, as that is a level of commitment beyond which I feel mere food deserves.

Equally, I felt no compulsion to confront your staff with the decimated remains of a rock-hard lunchtime meal. There is only so much sympathy one can expect to elicit in such circumstances. I am also a regular customer of yours, and saw no need to embarrass myself by indignantly brandishing a stale roll while loudly demanding my two-pounds-fifty back.

When it comes to purveyors of traditional lunchtime fare, my local area is very well served. I placed my faith in your ability to provide a worthy alternative to the options available from nearby bakers and food chains. You have let me down.

Please have a word with your quality control department, to ensure that supposedly fresh goods are indeed fresh. Had I accidentally dropped that sandwich on a small child, I could easily have killed him or her. As it was, I was grateful that I had elected to wear my steel-toecapped boots. Who knows what injuries your stale sandwich could have inflicted, had I not taken such precautions. Broken toes, cracked legs, structural damage to the floorboards – it hardly bears thinking about.

In conclusion, the bread was stale and I threw it in the bin. The rest of this letter was written with humour, to make you smile. Let me know if I succeeded.

Read their reply here.

 

 


Pubs, Offensive Shirts, And Invisible Children.

A letter to a national pub chain, after I was asked to remove a particular item of clothing in one of their bars. Nobody has previously complained about the garment in question, and so I curiously asked what the problem was. Instead of a reason, I got attitude. With all business names redacted, here is the letter I have just sent to their customer service department. Some of the facts, humour, and phrases have been lifted from my recent blogs, but I think they were worth reusing. I am very interested to see how, or if, they reply.

To Whom It May Concern,

I wish to make a formal complaint about the manner in which I was spoken to in one of your Glasgow pubs recently. I am not sure if the staff member in question is a manager or supervisor, but I do know that he was overly aggressive in his tone. This happened at 5pm on a Wednesday, as I was enjoying my first drink of the evening, and will require some background context.

You have perhaps noticed on the news that a former UK prime minister died recently. They tried to cover it up, but I think the story slipped through. Her name was Margaret Thatcher.

On the day of the funeral, I had elected to exercise my democratic right to protest. This is, in part, because I would like to exercise my democratic right to government – in my country, we elected one solitary Conservative MP. As there are five million of us, voting in 59 MPs at a general election, you can see the numbers are disproportionate. Scotland has more pandas than Tory MPs, and the pandas have a better chance of increasing their number.

Having recently decided to take a stance against this thoroughly unjust distribution of power, inspired by the constant and unworkable cuts being imposed upon us by a parliament of millionaires, I have taken to joining marches and demonstrations. I believe the time is right for growing public dissent to become more visible, and am doing what I can to swell its ranks. After all, if I don’t stand up for what I believe in, who will?

With this in mind, I have begun wearing a shirt that I made shortly after the general election in which Cameron was not fairly elected by majority, but managed to get into the top job regardless. On the back of my shirt, taking my lead from the DIY ethic of the original punk movement, I wrote “FUCK THE TORIES.” I am not often given to defacing my clothing, but this was heartfelt and I am quite happy to display my disgust with them and all they stand for. That was my reason for attending this rally on the day of the funeral which, at a time when there is no money for hospitals or education, cost approximately ten million pounds. It is no odds to me that Thatcher is dead, she was dead to Scotland decades ago. However, I genuinely hope that more people will follow my lead, rather than registering their discontent with the Conservatives by merely clicking on and sharing Facebook images. The rising unpopularity of this government needs to be made very obvious.

I was wearing this shirt on the day of the funeral, over a T-shirt, and as the rally to “Remember Thatcher’s Victims” against the tide of rose-tinted eulogising was taking place in George Square, I arranged to join one of my friends beforehand. We met in [pub name redacted], as it afforded us the comfort, prices, quality, and drinks selection that encourage us to be repeat customers of [name of chain redacted]. I also regularly visit [other pubs owned by the same chain] in this city, and have come to expect a certain standard of service from the pubs bearing your name. On this occasion, I feel badly let down.

I had been at the bar for approximately half an hour, enjoying a pint of Thatchers Gold cider as I have a keen sense of humour. We could see the Square through the window – one of the key benefits of windows being their inherent transparency – and watched as the crowd outside grew in number. Stepping forward, we tried to get a better look at the bus from which the speakers would address us. Then we returned to the bar, and I resumed the position I had just left, standing with my back resting against the counter as I faced the door onto the Square.

This was when I was suddenly and angrily accosted from behind, by someone whom I presume to be the manager due to his shirt and tie. He looked like he would have been more at home wearing a tracksuit and sovvy rings, accessorised with a half-drank bottle of Buckfast and a Burberry cap, but I try not to be prejudiced. He aggressively enquired “Could you take your shirt off please?”

Although he did use the word “please”, it was evidently not a polite request. I am not much of an exhibitionist, and don’t usually take my clothes off in public. At the very least, I expect to be handed a couple of notes if that is all you want, or if you want more then you can buy me dinner and a few drinks first. I have my morals. In truth, I now regret that I did not immediately comply in a mock-seductive manner, while whistling that well-known piece of music, “The Stripper.”

Instead, being a rational human capable of intelligent and reasoned debate, I questioned his request. I have been wearing this shirt for about two years – although I take it off and wash it quite regularly, as I take a pride in my personal hygiene. In all of that time of wearing it in the streets of various cities, in numerous shops, to music and comedy gigs, in the vicinity of members of several police forces, and in dozens of pubs and clubs – in all of that time, in all of those locations – I have received no complaint about the message it contains.

Indeed, the only time people pass comment is to register agreement. This ranges from “Nice shirt” to “Do we add a tick if we agree?” to “Hear hear!” and sometimes just a nod and an “Aye.” The broad spectrum of society to have approved of the sentiment include families with small children, little old ladies, office workers, manual labourers, weekend shoppers, huge numbers of pub drinkers, and – while sworn to not display an opinion – nobody in the constabulary in Glasgow, Manchester, Nottingham, London, or Brighton has spoken to me about it.

I was taken aback, therefore, to be asked to remove this garment in a pub where I had been drinking for thirty minutes without incident. I certainly did not anticipate that the demand would be issued so rudely.

I asked the manager (as I will presume him to be) what the problem was. I was very calm, and eager to discover the cause for the sole disapproval I have encountered against the sentiment expressed across my attire. He could have politely explained, however his Napoleon complex must have kicked in, as he just glared at me and in an equally hostile tone said “I don’t want it in my pub.”

I don’t want my country governed by a party nobody here voted for, but we don’t always get what we want.

I want to say that he was jumped-up, but had he jumped up then maybe we would have seen eye-to-eye. I do not want to say that he was short, but if you want to promote him to the next level you can do so by giving him a crate to stand on. I do not like to get personal, but nor do I expect to be spoken to in such a way when a clear and polite request would have sufficed,

His argument, and he was unduly keen to argue, was that “I’ve got kids in this pub.”

Whether they were his kids, underage drinkers, or if they had read a statement that – really – they should be educated in the socio-political background of, was not apparent to me. Words are not offensive in or of themselves, it is context that gives them meaning. I thought that perhaps I could try and explain that to these young and impressionable minds. However, I quickly glanced around, and could only see people that I would comfortably assume to be adults. It is possible that these kids had tried the old Beano comic trick, of sitting atop one another’s shoulders and donning a large raincoat, in order to slip into your pub unnoticed. If so, your employee must be commended for his eagle eye, as I failed to spot them.

This interloper – your employee – was evidently not in a mood for any form of casual conversation or meaningful debate. I tried to explain that I was just leaving anyway, but he glared at me with such vehemence that the best example I can provide by way of illustration is that of General Zod in the second Superman film. As he tried to penetrate me with his evil rays of Heat Vision, I decided that I was now bored with attempting to engage him, and simply left.

I joined the rally, where nobody complained about my shirt, and stood still for the numerous amateur, hobbyist, and professional photographers who asked if they could take pictures of it. This has become the norm, I have discovered. There must be close to a hundred photos of my shirt now in the possession of strangers. Some of these photographers have been children with camera phones, and at the “Axe The Bedroom Tax” march a fortnight ago one mother asked if her ten-year-old son could take a photo. My shirt is not offensive, the policies and dogma of an unelected government are. This is just a succinct way of summing up wide-reaching disgruntlement.

After the rally, I went to another pub not owned by [name of chain redacted], and asked the barman outright if my apparel would pose a problem for him. He laughed as if it was the silliest question he had been asked all day, which – being in a Glasgow pub – it probably was.

I do not expect that you will do anything regards this complaint, and certainly do not foresee any admonishment of the staff member involved. I just wish to register my unhappiness with the way I was spoken to in a pub chain that I previously held in very high regard. I will not be back in [pub name redacted] in future, and I think from reading this letter you will see that I have the conviction to stay true to that. If your employee believes that the invisible children in his pub are more loyal customers than me, then he can rely on them for his custom.

All in all, I found it to be a very disappointing experience. Although, not quite as disappointing as the media’s canonising of the woman who destroyed communities with her disregard for the lives and the livelihoods of the miners and the steel workers; who condemned Nelson Mandela and strongly praised General Pinochet; who covered up for the injustices seen in the wake of Hillsborough; and who died with the blood of the Belgrano on her hands.

If you would like to reply to this, I will be keen to read your response. Certainly, you may like to go some way to restoring my faith in your brand – if indeed you would prefer to retain my future custom.

Yours faithfully,

[Me]

 

 


Theatre – Having Fun With Your Five-A-Day

I have been involved with the theatre for most of my life, at some level or other, and have worked backstage professionally or semi-professionally since I was legally old enough to do so. The difference between being amateur and being professional can be defined by attitude. To remove doubt, I have been fortunate to be able to sustain myself doing a job that I love.

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”
– Confucius

theatre ionesco

Years ago, when I had not long started out, I found myself working in the major local venue with most of the amateur dramatic companies in the area. In fact, I was there so often that they eventually put me on their books as casual staff. When the building closed for refurbishment, I sought employment from most of the theatres in Glasgow. I had no joy, but took the time to submit an application to the (then) Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama – and was accepted. Thus, I even did my degree in the subject that I loved.

Prior to starting my course, I purchased dozens of published plays to enhance my knowledge beyond the musicals with which I was more familiar. I had not had the chance to see or work on many dramatic works, although my Higher Drama had given me a longstanding love of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. The drama department at my school was initiated, by coincidence, the same year that I began my secondary schooling. Due to the curriculum and qualifications I chose, I was one of the first few people to study the subject for all six of my years there – the obligatory first two years, then two years for my Standard Grade, an SVQ module (I think – it was a long time ago now), and my Higher.

What I quickly discovered, once I began my degree, was that no real knowledge of or passion for theatre was required. It was a course that was virtually impossible to fail, provided you turned up every day and did the bare minimum of work required. Whatever the dubious merits of the course, and they were often dubious, I spent the summer prior to my studies by immersing myself in the written works of Miller, Pinter, Orton, Ionesco, Stoppard, and others. It didn’t relate to my eventual coursework in any way, but it gave me pleasure and saw me build up a small library that I still refer to on occasion.

theatre stoppard

The theatre that I know, and grew to love, is not just populated with intelligent people, it also introduced me to some of the funniest people I have ever known, and some of the sickest and dirtiest conversations and jokes I have yet been party to. Just in case you thought this particular blog entry was going to be high-brow…

After the run of one show, when I was aged seventeen or eighteen, I was in the venue early on a Sunday morning to continue the “get-out” of the scenery and props. I was then the youngest person on the crew, working with several guys who had been doing this for at least as many years as I had lived. The cameraderie was second to none, and that crew in particular took me under their wing and showed me a lot. They taught me the ropes (the origin of that very expression) and taught me to drink.

We began the day with the customary raid of the deserted dressing rooms, seeking out the remnants of the final-performance tins of sweets that the cast always brought in. One of our number emerged onto the stage a short time later, unpeeling a banana.

“Where did you get that??” Someone asked.

“Dancers’ dressing room,” was the matter-of-fact reply.

“You don’t know where that’s been!”

“Yes I do,” he said, responding to the implied innuendo. He deliberately sniffed along the entire length of the banana, then looked up.
“And I know which one it was too.”

 

Filthy. Fucking funny. Fond memories.

 

theatre orton


Life In The 21st Scent-ury

I was at work the other day, when our nostrils were assailed by a sudden, distinctive, but not unpleasant smell. It was first noticed by one of the guys near me.

“Can you smell that?” He asked. “I can smell some kind of vanilla essence.”

I told him he had just revealed himself to be undeniably middle class.

“How come?”

“Because I would say that I can smell ice-cream…”

 

 


Sometimes It’s Just Not Cricket.

This happened to an old flatmate of mine, making it possibly the only story on here that didn’t involve me personally. He is no longer around, by his own hand, and the story entered into legend – but not without corroboration from several sources. Here, then, for posterity, is the story as I was told it, with all the details that were amended or corrected by eyewitnesses.

My flatmate, as he then was, worked for a well-known fast food chain, one that sells burgers, which barely resemble food, at very cheap prices. He was not backwards about coming forwards, and prided himself on his stubborn refusal to serve anybody who gave him abuse – he was large, and often worked at the window taking orders from the excessively inebriated in the small hours of the weekend. He told me once about the time someone called him a fat bastard, so he shut the window and stood there, arms folded, refusing point blank to open it again or serve the guy in question. The guy got angry as all hell, but my flatmate stood his ground, saying he wouldn’t serve him and wouldn’t serve anyone else either until he fucked off. This put the rest of the queue on his side, telling the guy to beat it.

“I’ll see you after work!” the guy shouted at him, and my flatmate just cheerfully said “No bother, I finish at four. See you then!”
Not that he could fight, but he had the courage or – perhaps, given how it all ended – was so involved with his own feelings as to genuinely not give a fuck.

He was at the counter one day, serving. A guy came up to him and placed an order, but chucked in some offensive comment with it. My flatmate refused to serve him.

“You better serve me,” the guy said, “Or I’ll get a cricket bat and smash fuck out the place.”

“Go and get your cricket bat then, ya prick.” I admire how calm and collected my flatmate could be, dealing with this unending sea of arseholes. What he was not to know, however, was that this guy had – at the table, in his holdall – a cricket bat. He retrieved it, came straight back, and took a swing at my flatmate.

My flatmate stepped back, unphased as the bat connected full force with a straw dispenser, shattering it and raining paper-covered straws across the floor. He calmly gestured to three locations on the ceiling and pointed out, matter-of-factly, “Security camera, security camera, security camera. Get tae fuck before the polis get here.”

The guy might have been stupid, but he wasn’t stupid enough to hang around and wait for the cops to show. He legged it.

 

As for my flatmate, things eventually went sour between us and we parted on bad terms. I regret that, and it is easy to look back now and realise that certain divisive incidents were probably indicative of his depression rather than from any desire to do wrong by us. I went to his funeral, with a lot of others, and paid my respects – he was a good guy at heart, and pretty damn funny. This is my favourite of his work stories.


Weighting For Praise.

I was on facebook the other day, because I am human and live in the Western world. I’m not proud of the fact, and to be perfectly honest I feel that website has removed something of my soul which may now be lost to me forever. There are many reasons for this, and I would start listing them if I didn’t suspect you are already aware of many of them. That site steals our time and makes us anti-social while pretending to make us more sociable.

As it happens, a picture cropped up in my “news feed” – don’t get me started on that as a term – which another friend had “liked.” It is a picture of Dawn French, famously fat actress, alongside a more recent picture which shows her to have lost a great deal of weight. Whichever method she used to shed the extra pounds, be it hard work or surgery, is largely irrelevant. It was the caption that caught my eye: “Check out Dawn French’s incredible body transformation. Click LIKE if you think she’s done well!”

Right, so her body is undeniably transformed, and she looks better for it. Thing is, her body already underwent one transformation – if you look at footage of her from the early Eighties, when she guested in The Young Ones and appeared in The Comic Strip Presents, she was a normal, everyday size.

It’s weird, man. My friend mentioned this recently, because I lost some weight. Latterly, I also put some weight back on. It takes work and willpower to make the change, that’s a given – nobody ever ate themselves skinny. When you lose a noticeable amount of weight, though, everybody who notices it comments on it, or congratulates you. Very, very few people (aside from maybe a bitchy relative) comment on weight gain.

So, let’s click LIKE on Dawn French’s “incredible body transformation” now she looks a healthy weight. Just don’t acknowledge that other transformation, over the course of the 80s and 90s, when she doubled in size. We don’t mention that.

 

Here is the photo that prompted this post:

 

 

 


The Londoner With A Sense Of Humour.

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.