Like so many others, my first introduction to dance pioneers Underworld came with a viewing of the iconic Nineties Scottish film, Trainspotting. If it was not the network television premiere, back when we only had four channels to watch, it was certainly within a year or two of release.
When the newsagent John Menzies had a summer sale, in 2000 or more likely 2001, I picked up two albums on CD for pennies: Air’s 10,000 Hz Legend and Underworld’s Everything Everything. I remember the date of those purchases not because the price reduction was notable (though it was), but because it was the time when this diehard teenaged metalhead began to discover and appreciate electronic music. Everything Everything cost me forty-nine pence, at a time when Menzies were punting new albums for seventeen pounds. For that amount, without knowing what to expect but with their definitive Trainspotting hit ‘Born Slippy’ on the tracklisting, I took the risk. That song was good enough to merit the splurging of half a quid.
It took no time into the first listen to realise that it was a live album, and what an album! Track after track of brilliant, uplifting music, building and releasing and building again, washing over euphoric crowds and taking them with it. I loved it, and sixteen years later I believe it is probably the live album I have listened to most in my life – comfortably eclipsing Iron Maiden’s seminal Live After Death.
With limited internet – by which I mean the internet itself was limited, back when downloading one song took hours and an entire album meant leaving the computer running Napster, Kazaa, or Audiogalaxy overnight – I sought out physical copies of their studio recordings, buying the first two. In 2007, I finally saw Underworld play live, an unforgettable experience in Glasgow’s corporate-sponsored Academy. The concert was recorded and released immediately afterwards for sale on compact disc, an official bootleg of the kind Pearl Jam first offered, as every show on the tour was turned into the best kind of souvenir or the collecting completist’s expensive nightmare. Thankfully, most of them are online now.
I saw Underworld play again in 2010, at the legendary Barrowland, and once more in 2015 – in the interim they scored the opening ceremony of London’s Olympic Games for director Danny Boyle, and their prolonged hiatus drove me to sieze the opportunity and see them at both their London shows in 2016. By this time, I had more live bootlegs than I can listen to in two straight days, and my left forearm has been completely given over to a tattoo inspired by them. Also in 2016, filming began on the sequel to Trainspotting.
The original launched the careers of Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle, heading an ensemble cast who have all enjoyed career success since, and was directed by Danny Boyle. The film reached far beyond its Scottish roots, quotes and music and scenes and marketing artwork all quickly becoming ingrained in popular culture. Any follow-up would be hotly anticipated and have to be confident of adding to the legacy.
As a fan of the film, of the band, and as someone who works in film and television, I joined the long list of people hoping to find work on the return trip. With luck, I found myself employed in the props department for a couple of days.
I do not recall if I signed a non-disclosure agreement or not, but I suspect that I did and I am certainly going to write as though that is the case. I was told that the script was kept locked in a safe, with readings restricted and sometimes supervised – true or not, this one is definitely hotly anticipated.
My role was functional, rather than artistic – emptying lorries, unpacking boxes, tidying stock, moving furniture, cleaning, and so on: a cog in a very big wheel, delighted to be involved in this momentous project. I try not to write much about my professional life. It interests me, but I am wary of being boring or worse, a blowhard. Despite the proximity to famous people, our paths rarely cross, and most of my days are spent preparing things before they arrive or removing them afterwards. That said, in relation to this film, I was secretly thrilled to walk past Sick Boy at one point. Technically I walked past an actor, outside and thirty feet away, but history and association and his bleached hair meant that, to me, I saw Sick Boy.
Where is this self-proclaimed dubious claim to fame? In the studio. Various sets had been built, some completed and filmed in, others in the early stages of construction. To tell you that there was a pub interior and some homes and a nightclub toilet is to give little away. The toilet had seven cubicles, and a floor that was still being laid with rubber tiles. A couple of tilers finished the sinks, and I was instructed to move fixings and hardware to the back of the set – ready for installation – and place toilet pans into the cubicles. From memory, and this will have no bearing on your enjoyment of the movie, there were four white pans, four stainless steel, four white lids, and four black. These would be fixed in position later, once the designer had chosen combinations for the desired look.
That was more or less the last thing I did, to close my second of two shifts. I was happy enough – I worked and reconnected with good people, on something I had for months wanted to be part of, and it paid me. Having been told some of the storyline and how it would relate to the first film, and with all of the main cast and crew back for the second run, I could rejoin the ranks of everyone else waiting to see the result – my existing belief that it will be great now bolstered by the additional insight. I thought no more about it.
Then what happened is, six months down the line, the official trailer came out. It was accompanied by a new teaser poster, depicting the four male leads.
Above: Some time after my involvement had ended. Watch the trailer.
And that, despite my preference to keep these things grounded and relatable, is just about the most dubious claim to fame I could possibly hope for – this image has been seen millions of times, and I put those toilets there. This, ignoring appearances to the contrary, is icing on the cake. The 1996 version of me cannot stop smiling.
I had a good day ruined by one of the Butcher Babies, after seeing them play.
I spent the afternoon with my niece, who is nearing her second birthday, and in a rare burst of sunshine and warmth we went to the play park. She had great fun, and in the visitor centre she finally found the courage (with my reassurance) to climb for the first time through the dark tunnel with their mocked-up badger sett. Previously she has been too scared. My work as Best Uncle continues.
Back in town, I followed my plan to see the Butcher Babies, whose debut album has had a fair number of plays on my stereo since the band were recommended to me – a year or so ago. The opening band were local, with a good press, and I have been trying to see them live for some time. Tonight, at last, was to be the night.
Sure enough, Splintered Halo drew a decent crowd of their own, and quickly won over the early-comers who were new to them. In sixteen years of local gig attendance, I have rarely seen a band so focused, so tight, with such a clear identity and character-driven lyrics and performance. With an EP out and an album in progress, and on the back of the show I saw this evening, their star may be about to rise – nationally, and perhaps internationally too.
The second (and main) support was a band called Sumo Cyco – the best and most interesting unknown (to me) metal band I have heard in years, and I write that as someone who has seen hundreds of bands and listened to thousands. With a hardcore energy, infectious enthusiasm, and a frontwoman both vocally adept and unafraid to jump in amongst the crowd, they electrified the gig. At the merch booth, cheerful guitarist Matt initiated conversation, on account of the KMFDM shirt I was wearing, and we both hail from Hamilton – me from the nearby Scottish town, and them from its Canadian namesake. Although fifteen pounds is expensive for a CD these days, I happily bought a copy of their album. Next time they play, I will be there.
Butcher Babies were impressive, an excellent headline band with two talented female singers. There is Heidi, a blonde with vivid red in her hair – she seems lovely and friendly. Outside the venue, I saw her walking from the tour bus and said “Good show,” in passing, and she grabbed my hand and quickly shook it with a warm smile and a ‘thank you’ on her way back into the building.
Their other singer, Carla, is a total cow with a bad attitude problem, as I learned to my cost just prior to seeing Heidi.
I was walking down the stairs that lead to the front door/exit of the Cathouse, heading home. At the very moment I reached the half-open door, on my way out, Carla stepped inside. I said “Good show,” and she asked “Could you do me a favour?”
I immediately thought (in hindsight, my error) that she had mistaken me for a bouncer – at the doorway into the building – because it happens to me all the time. In my boots, I stand six foot four. I have broad shoulders, weigh about twenty stones, and have a natural resting facial expression which seems to sit somewhere in the vicinity of disapproving, unamused, unimpressed, or whatever other qualities immediately suggest ‘bouncer’ to people in clubs, at gigs, and once at a bus stop. It had already happened earlier that very evening, in the crowd, while she was on stage.
Fans of comedian Kevin Bridges will relate to his description of the awkward moment in a shop, when someone mistakes you for a salesperson and you have to embarrassedly say “I don’t actually work here.” That was what I said, or began to express, in response to being asked for a favour – attempting to make clear that I was willing to grant this favour, provided Carla realised I was not staff at the club. Instead, she unleashed an unwarranted torrent of Fuck Yous and You Fucking Assholes at me, which caught me completely off-guard and led to me trying to further explain while her inexplicably angry outburst continued. It takes a lot to unsettle me, but she managed. She wanted a photo taken, of her and the mural on the wall of the staircase, and as that became clear I offered to take it – too late, as an unbelievably simple misunderstanding descended into complete verbal abuse. I was too taken aback to even retaliate, or to commiserate with the actual bouncer after the fact. I simply went home, shocked and becoming increasingly annoyed at how much of an unnecessary cunt she had been.
Above: Carla responded to me on Twitter, something like “I knew you weren’t a bouncer, but I asked you to take a photo and you said no, so I said fuck you :-)” – not shown as she deleted her tweet once I replied to it and before I screengrabbed it.
It is an interesting tactic, in this era of illegal downloads and general apathy, to round on somebody who has paid to see you just for seemingly refusing to take your photo. Presumably the aim of this thirteen-date UK tour was to build on their fanbase, not undermine it. However, I have seen bands who can manage to actually sell out the Cathouse, and bigger venues, and never have I witnessed anything like what happened tonight – let alone been subjected to it. Next time they play here they will sell one less ticket.
Last week, I flew to Los Angeles to see my favourite band play a unique and sold-out show. We have been friends for eleven years, I was thanked from the stage, backstage we drank together – following welcoming hugs – and we laughed and chatted and caught up until the bar was closed. We will do it again next time too. So the question is, if I have in my life bands who truly appreciate my support, why the fuck do I need Butcher Babies?
Update: It turned out to be mutual, as I was swiftly blocked on Twitter when I posted and linked to this blog. Admittedly, tagging her and referring to her as a “total cunt” probably escalated the situation – I suspect that is why her borderline-civil tweet was replaced with an inaccurate but all-out offensive, as demonstrated by the following.
One of my friends took it upon himself to ask her about it, receiving the reply below, after which he was instantly blocked too – hardly the actions of an innocent. Carla seems very fast to dish out unjustified criticism, and unable to take it. Without wishing to give any weight to her reply, there are two things here. Firstly, it’s hard to imagine that a Glasgow bouncer was interested enough to volunteer an opinion about an interaction between a sober punter in good humour (until increasingly bewildered by unfolding events) on his way out of the club, and a diva who had just headlined a show there. It might have been different had I hung around arguing, invoking the wrath of city centre nightclub door staff, but I just left.
Furthermore, if I was a bouncer, and one of the headline band looked to me and said of someone, “What a cunt,” I would probably agree too just to end the conversation – if he did agree, which I cannot know. Frankly, I do not know anyone who can be bothered entering, or looking for, drama – except, perhaps, an image-based LA band such as Butcher Babies.
This is now stalemate, and in the undesired territory of tedious online drama. For my own amusement, I wanted to employ caustic wit to try and get myself banned from their Facebook page too – but to do so would be to lose whatever high ground I might have. With 270,000 followers on their page it is hard to imagine any of the band will care very much, especially not as I have already been dismissed as “a jerk.” Rather than waste any more time on this, I would sooner go and chat with musicians who have less chips on their shoulder and more in the way of a sense of humour.
Update 2: Blocked again. You cannot reason with the thoroughly unreasonable. Game over. And you know what? I sincerely regret going to that gig. I want to be uplifted, I want to smile. I do not spend my time and money on supporting live music in order to offend the band members on my way out the door, and I wish I had never met that sour and twisted poisonous arsehole. She is a fucking snake.
I doubt I will ever be entirely certain, but it is possible that I may once have attracted the amorous attentions of the writer of a Golden Globe-winning, Gold-selling, chart-topping single. There is the distinct possibility that it was all completely innocent, of course, and that is the version of the story I hold to be true. The following is told without prejudice.
I studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, a degree which allowed me to arrange work placements in my final year. Many of my peers elected to gain experience with companies in Scotland, most notably Scottish Opera and the Theatre Royal. In my very finite wisdom – in hindsight, making contacts in this country would have been sensible in the long run – I decided that I would set my sights further afield than the venue which was literally across the street, and began applying for internships in America. Somewhere between a dozen and twenty emails later, one organisation replied offering me a place. Lasting nine weeks over the summer, it would count as two of my five allocations, contributing to my learning while also providing me with my first trip outside Europe.
As I would be studying throughout the summer of 2005, the payoff was time off during the preceding term – time spent hoovering up every available shift in the pub where I was ordinarily employed at weekends only. I saved hard, since the gig provided accomodation and nothing else, and booked my flights. A couple of months later, I was in the USA. I quickly befriended the Assistant Technical Director, bonding on the first day while talking about music.
“I like metal, but I like it messed-up,” he said. “Like Mindless Self Indulgence.”
“You should check out Combichrist,” I said, referring to an act I had discovered and seen a month previously. I saw them for a second time in New York City, about a month after this conversation, and Graham was at the gig with me. He was the only one wearing trainers (sneakers) and I was the only one wearing a kilt. MSI and Combi later toured together, and eventually remixed singles for each other too. On the way out of the venue I stole an event poster off the wall, which I still have. In December 2013 I saw Combichrist play live for the twenty-eighth time.
I found Americans to be friendly, happy to engage with the “crazy Scotsman” in their midst. The girls loved my accent, and there was at one time a photograph showing me at an opening night party, surrounded by four or five women. They were seen to be hanging on my every word, and what was never clear from the picture is that the word they were hanging on was “squirrel.”
“Say it again!” they cried, delighted as I truncated the “u” and rolled the Rs. Being a wind-up merchant of some years standing, it did not take long before I aped their pronunciation. “Say ‘squirrel’!”
I worked on a number of shows as a stage carpenter, learning a lot about life and professionalism (as well as my trade) in the daytime, and out-drinking most of the crew and other interns in the evening. I have a lot of fond memories of that time, and maintain a handful of friendships with those I met. It was a place outside NYC where new plays could air to audiences without the pressure of critical scrutiny, a safe workshop environment where – while I was there – a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright could test his latest script, starring someone who would later become a Muppets villain.
At some point, in all of this, I was introduced to the lovely Amanda McBroom. She was working on lyrics for a new musical adaptation of a film, having once penned a song – famously sung by Bette Midler – called The Rose.
We spoke a few times, on various occasions at company parties or in the production office, and she told me that she had visited Glasgow and eaten in Ashton Lane’s famous restaurant The Ubiquitous Chip. She was usually accompanied by her friend and stage manager, a pleasant Englishwoman who had served her time in the West End. Back then, I had vague notions of pursuing a career in that hallowed district – soon abandoned when I realised that I do not even like visiting London, and would find living there to be unbearable.
When the 7/7 bombings happened, I called home to check my wee cousin was okay – thankfully she was. The stage manager, having far more contacts in the vicinity than I, made frantic phonecall after frantic phonecall, visibly upset as she did so. I remember the callous – almost ridiculous – uttering of our production manager, a man with the unenviable knack of making you feel uncomfortable by merely speaking to you. He would look at you slightly longer than necessary, as if waiting or searching for a response, for some continuation of the conversation or expected answer which was not apparent. As this poor woman desperately tried to reach her friends and relations, his attempt at sympathy extended to a misguided “Now you know how we felt on 9/11.”
After a series of fun adventures I returned home, receiving an email shortly afterwards from the stage manager. Amanda was working on a new project based on Shakespeare’s female characters, and I was asked if I would record myself reading the Lady Macbeth lyrics. This would serve as a basis for her to practise and recite it in a broadly-authentic accent, taking into consideration that Macbeth was not Glaswegian and that US ears would need to comprehend the language.
Theatre being an industry that often thrives on favours, especially when you are a student of the craft, I thought nothing of it. I altered the perfect English of the writing to reflect the Scottish vernacular, changing the “didn’ts” to “didnaes” and so forth. As I recall, I read it aloud into a microphone and converted the digital recording into a file small enough to email across, including with it my version of the lyrics. I was careful to only reflect the local dialect, turning things like the “ofs” to “aes”, because however much of an ego you may think I have, it does not extend to redrafting the work of someone who only missed out on an Oscar nomination because her song predated the film that made it famous.
It was during this endeavour that the question was asked of me: “Why are you doing this?”
“I was asked to.”
“Aye, but – have you not got a lassie friend that could read it. Would that not make more sense, for her to learn from another female instead of a deep-voiced guy?”
I had given it no thought. Perhaps naively, I believed I was simply fulfilling a request that had been made of me, from someone who had been warm and friendly when I met her in a foreign land. The implication that she “maybe had a wee thing” for me had passed me by until that point. I genuinely do not know. Granted, I am tall, dark-haired, was then aged twenty-three, and had spent the summer wearing a kilt instead of shorts. However, I am not big-headed enough to presume that I did anything other than make an acquaintance.
Furthermore, dealing solely in facts, it remains the only time that a multi-award-winning songwriter – responsible for a world-famous hit – has asked me for any kind of collaborative input. I was happy to oblige.
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.
I logged in to my Twitter account the other day, prior to setting up a dedicated account for this blog in order to try and reach a wider readership. So far, the blog page is being followed by ten people, and is not yet what you might call a roaring success. If you are on Twitter, you can help me change that if you are so inclined. Please be inclined.
I always have a quick look at my Timeline, to see what people I follow are posting, before switching to the “Interactions” page so as to avoid being swamped by a million new-tweet notifications. This has changed now that I have begun using Tweetdeck to manage my personal account, this blog’s account, and the account for my “Adventures In The World Of Stand-Up Comedy” blog. However, that was my routine on the day in question.
The top of my Timeline was filled with retweets from comedian Sarah Millican, and from them it was fairly evident that she had posted about swallowing her chewing gum. Most of the “funny” answers had already been given and, as I have an aversion to being in any way “hack” with my jokes, I was prepared to skip straight to the page telling me how little I had been socially interacted with since last signing in. That was when I noticed the tweet I was drawn to reply to.
Neil “Doctor” Fox was a fixture of my childhood, his nationally-syndicated weekend chart show playing in the car on our way to or from various shopping malls, supermarkets, and trips to see one or other of my grandparents. More than anything, I remember the constant jingle that cut the word “Fox” onto a truncated sample of Robert Palmer singing “Doctor, Doctor,” from his song about having a “Bad Case Of Loving You.”
I tried to find a clip of that particular jingle, with no luck, but I did find this track by Kunt And The Gang. They appear to be offering sexual favours in return for a high chart position.
I have loved Chris Morris ever since I first stumbled upon an episode of The Day Today on BBC 2 one night, and mistook it for a factual programme for about thirty seconds. Its subversive genius soon became apparent, and it has subsequently made televised news impossible to watch. I was fortunate enough to then see the original broadcasts of his equally brilliant Brass Eye and the darkly twisted sketch show Jam. I have watched all of them innumerable times since, able to quote large amounts of all of them and awed by the beauty of his turns of phrase. “Proof if proof be need be”; “Quadrospazzed on a Life-Glug” ; “Cake is a made-up drug … A big, yellow death-bullet in the head of some poor user, or ‘custard gannet,’ as the dealers call them.”
“When dancing, lost in techno trance, arms flailing, gawky Bez. Then find you snagged on frowns, and slowly dawns… you’re jazzing to the bleak tone of a life support machine, that marks the steady fading of your day-old baby daughter. And when midnight sirens lead to blue-flash road-mash; stretchers, covered heads, and slippy red macadam, and find you creeping ‘neath the blankets, to snuggle close a mangle bird, hoping soon you too will be freezer-drawered. Then welcome… mmm… ooh, chemotherapy wig, welcome. In Jam. Jam. Jam. Jam. Jam. Jaaaaam.” – Intro to Episode 1
Brass Eye’s most infamous episode was the one-off special, Paedogeddon. From Wikipedia:
“To illustrate the media’s knee-jerk reaction to the subject, various celebrities were duped into presenting fatuous and often ridiculous pieces to camera in the name of a campaign against paedophiles. Gary Lineker and Phil Collins endorsed a spoof charity, Nonce Sense, (pronounced “nonsense”—”nonce” being British slang for people convicted or suspected of molestation or sexual crimes), Collins saying, “I’m talking Nonce Sense!” Tomorrow’s World presenter Philippa Forrester and ITN reporter Nicholas Owen were shown explaining the details of HOECS (pronounced “hoax”) computer games, which on-line paedophiles were using to abuse children via the internet. Capital Radio DJ Neil “Doctor” Fox told viewers that “paedophiles have more genes in common with crabs than they do with you and me”, adding “Now that is scientific fact — there’s no real evidence for it — but it is scientific fact”.”
That last quote, from “Doctor” Fox, is one of many that I can easily recite verbatim. Here he was on Twitter, espousing an obviously nonsensical “fact” in reply to Sarah Millican’s tweet, and I replied without a second’s hesitation – quoting his own assertion about facts and evidence.
I did not expect a reply – I figured it would be an episode of his life that he would be embarrassed to be reminded of, since various celebrity interviewees later denounced the show while publicly expressing their anger at being duped. I did not anticipate a reply from Sarah Millican either, as she has previously ignored me. Kind of. We have a mutual friend, a professional comedian who once publicly posted the link to my film “Jerry Generic” – which is a short satire of stand-up and of hack jokes and topics. Ms. Millican “replied” to it, but only insofar as to send an unrelated tweet to the friend off the back of it. I saw it as I was named in the original tweet, but the reply was not directed at, and did not concern, me. I presumed that it was easier to tack a new message onto that one rather than hit the “compose” button, and took that communication to be an act of convenience rather than a personal slight.
It came as some surprise, then, to find a reply from Foxy a few days later. He had taken my tweet in his stride, seeming to praise me for making the reference, and candidly referring to the occasional repercussions of his appearance on that show. I accepted that at face value and decided not to reply further – instead resorting to just retweeting it for others to read.
I forget precisely what new story inspired my latest vitriolic social-networking chastisement of the leader of the government which nobody in my country voted for.
It was something to do with more cuts imminently about to take effect, further destruction of whatever last bastions of hope still remain, or the perceived abolition of the entire welfare state and all of its many benefits – benefits in the sense of positive attributes and not, as has recently become the norm, a filthy word to be spat out in a mixture of contempt and disgust. In hindsight, I think it was mention of the JobCentre having to send increasing numbers of people to Food Banks.
Demoralised and worn-down by the policies of our unelected Prime Monster and his millionaire cohorts, I have long since abandoned any formulation of argument and resorted to wearing a German army shirt adorned on the back with the handwritten, Punk-era-inspired epithet “Fuck The Tories.” I have also taken to referring to that cunt Cameron as “that cunt Cameron.” This is a misnomer, as – to quote a Jimmy Carr heckler put-down – I doubt he has the depth or the ability to give pleasure.
It was in this spirit that, fed up of more depressing pronouncements about how these seven-figures-rich, expense-claiming bunglers are “in this together” with people who are working every available hour in order to starve and freeze, I posted the following to my Twitter page:
“Could one of you be good enough to hit that cunt Cameron in the face with a shovel, please? Maybe a couple of times? Quite hard?”
It was a throwaway line, the kind of silly request that – tallied with extreme violence – characterises many of my posts to Twitter, Facebook, and which colours the jokes and stories I have developed over the past 29 months as a part-time, largely unpaid, stand-up comedian. If you follow my blog specific to those experiences, you are probably aware that my only journalistic review called me “fond of absurdity and with more than a hint of menace.”
As I checked the “connect” sub-page of Twitter, to see if I had had any kind of response to it, I saw that it had been retweeted – forwarded – by my wee cousin. This was of no surprise to me, as she has an equally abject hatred of the Tories – being, as she is, Scottish and of voting age.
The tweet was then retweeted by a “Derek Mackay MSP.”
Who? Never heard of him. I know what an MSP is, though.
At first, I presumed it was a spoof account – the kind of humorous, satirical account that alleges to be the new pope, or the JobCentre, or my local council, and posts a slew of witty, insightful, scathing, or absurd comments. That seemed the most likely occurrence, until I noticed that this account has a blue “tick” next to it, signifying that it has been verified as accurately portraying the notable person named. Possibly, this account had been hacked, then. Certainly, my post sat awkwardly amidst a stream of dry information about conference attending, going for a swim before attending a conference, and a trip to Dundee.
It was unusual enough, and raised my interest sufficiently, that I took a few screenshots on both my laptop and my phone.
The next evening, I was out with my wee cousin. I told a few people that I had been retweeted by an MSP, and at the point of checking I noticed that that particular notification had gone. I laughed aloud, figuring he must have changed his mind, and thought nothing more of it. Whether it had been deliberately posted by this MSP, or by someone pertaining to be him, it had now been removed. I joked that maybe it showed the true breadth and depth of feeling in this country, when even the elected members of our parliament can’t abide their Westminster counterparts.
Today, Wednesday 27th March, I met a friend for coffee. Doing some messages after that, I happened to look at my Twitter interactions page, and saw a message from one of my regular comedy colleagues. I thought he was alluding to publication in some obscure local rag, and it took a second glance to realise that he was using the common colloquialism to refer to the Glasgow Daily Record. In my haste to buy a copy from the nearest newsagent, I unsuccessfully tried to cross Union Street three times without detouring the five metres to the traffic lights, and managed to step worryingly close into the path of a moving bus while doing so.
As soon as I bought it, I turned to page four. There, indeed, was a short article about an MSP retweeting me. As soon as I got home I posted pictures of the tweet (screenshot) and of the article itself. On Facebook, it has been shared by nine of my friends and led to something of folk-hero status. On Twitter, it has been passed on less times, but with equal amounts of praise from those who have read it. Considering the Record included my Twitter username, it would have been very easy for people to object directly. At the time of writing, nobody has. I suspect they are all too busy working out whether they pay for heating, food, clothing, or fuel this week – being as it is not quite payday, and we can’t all be millionaire MPs with expense accounts.
Show me a person who approves of, likes, or voted for David Cameron, and I will show you somebody who probably lives in the south of England.
My friend McGovern has made me realise that I can extract, as a poster quote should I ever succeed enough in comedy to require one:
“Bile” – The Deputy Leader of the Scottish Conservatives
And, thanks to the adjective they used, I can also include:
“Comic” – The Daily Record.
I am considering whether, on the back of the Tory’s comments as reported in that article, I should write to Alex Salmond in support of this Derek Mackay MSP.
Firstly, I do not want him to lose his job over this. It would be good if he could just admit that this was an error, and move on. God knows, there are more important democratic matters at hand. Like the fact the UK prime minister heads a party that had one MP returned from our entire country. Scotland did not vote for this government.
Secondly, I genuinely believe that this was an error on the part of Derek Mackay MSP. Not only did this retweet sit at odds with everything else he has posted, so far as I could see, he also had to be fully instructed on how to remove the tweet from his timeline. This is evidenced by the screenshot below. To me, that demonstrates a basic failing in knowing how to use the site, supporting my theory that this was an accident. On a smartphone, it could have been a simple slip of the thumb.
Thirdly, it borders on being inconceivable that any politician, by the very virtue of being a politician, would post anything so fundamentally unequivocal. Even if it happened to be his personal opinion, of which I have no knowledge. Deliberately retweeting this could be tantamount to career suicide, and at best it would be a foolish move for someone so open to public and press scrutiny. I very much doubt that this was intentionally retweeted.
While I decide if further press coverage merits me writing in support of this man and defending him for making what I believe to be a genuine mistake (and not even a mere oversight of judgement), I took the liberty of sending him a short message of support directly. Unsure how to word it, and trying to convey the right sentiment, I opened with my sincere desire that he is not unduly disciplined for this matter. I wasn’t sure how to end, though, and I suspect I may have undermined that sincerity with my closing sentence. I hope not, it just seemed apposite.
My overall response, naturally, was to post the following general advice to all of Twitter (well, to my 331 followers anyway) :
“If you’re in a position of public standing, it is inadvisable to retweet messages containing “offensive” language & requests for violence.”
I really don’t think he meant to.
[There is now a follow-up to this piece, which can be read here.]
I studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, which sounds far more prestigious than it ought to. It was a valuable experience as much for what it taught me about institutions and politics as for what I learned about the practical aspects of staging productions.
The building is located next to the Thistle Hotel, and an access road runs down the side of one and along the side of the other. Our side door, the main access point for small load-ins and deliveries, and providing access to the ever-present rubbish skip, opened onto the corner of this road. Across the street was the corner of the hotel, and an exit situated on the north corner at the east side of the building. Our door faced west, onto it. Here it is in Google Maps:
There was a buzz about the place one day in 2006, due to a big talk being hosted in the hotel. I happened to be on the street at the front of the RSAMD, passing across the end of the lane that runs off to the right in this picture. I glanced down the side of the building, as it was not uncommon to see people there who I knew. Sure enough, one of the guys from the year below me was patiently sitting on the low wall outside our door. I walked down the lane and joined him.
A handful of professional photographers were standing behind the barrier, seen on the left of this picture, and there were a few other curious bystanders milling around. The rumour was strong, my friend informed me, that something interesting was about to happen.
With no more pressing engagements, I sat there for maybe five minutes, chatting to my friend and idly waiting to see if anything out of the ordinary occurred. I didn’t have to wait long.
The hotel door suddenly opened and out came three or four men in smart black suits, closely followed by Bill Clinton and more guys in black suits.
Clinton stopped at the top of the platform, addressing the crowd from his position behind the black railing. There were maybe thirty people, if that, in his vicinity. I forget all that he said, as he imparted a few words of greeting and referred to the key topics of the luncheon at which he had just presided. He ended by saying, and I remember this vividly, “Give the power back to the people.”
There were cheers, and he raised his fist in some gesture of salute, or as a way of saying goodbye, before being promptly whisked into one of two big, black secret-service vehicles with heavily tinted windows. They both drove off without much delay.
But that, such as it was, is the time that I was part of a very small crowd in close proximity to, and spoken to by, a recent former president of the United States of America.