Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Family

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.


Banking On The Wrong Name – Part 1.

Bank of Scotland Esquire esquire, missing middle initialAbove: Correspondence received, click to see it in more detail.

Dear Bank of Scotland,

Or, to address you in the same manner you addressed your latest letter to me,

Dear Bank o Scotland outdated suffix outdated suffix,

I would like you to reconsider how you word my name, and amend your records accordingly. I use both of my middle initials, not the one you assign, with valid reason. I do not require the “Esquire” you add after my name, and adding two of them seems doubly unnecessary. One recognised authority on etiquette suggests you have also used it wrongly, by placing it at the start of a written communication.

My name is Jordan R.A. Mills and, dear god, the abuse I have taken for electing to sign myself that way. Since late primary or early secondary school it has been viewed as an affectation, lending itself to the wonderfully tedious game whereby people guess what those two letters stand for. You can imagine, I am sure, that there were never any flattering or complimentary suggestions. It took me a regrettably long time to realise that the best and most effective way to shut that down was to simply tell the truth; that it is not immediately apparent that I sign my middle initials as they stand for the forenames of my two grandfathers – neither of whom lived to see me born. Now who is the “rotten arsehole”?

There are three ways people write this moniker for me – some take my lead and copy it verbatim, some disregard both initials, and – most annoyingly – some abandon only one of them. When I was occasionally performing stand-up comedy, and with reference to the second two options above, I made this observation:

“I’ve never understood why people find it acceptable to just jettison a key component of my name.

I’d never dream of doing that to someone, just going ‘You know what? I was going to write his name, but Jesus I can’t be bothered so I’ll leave a couple of letters out.’ Whatever time that might save. Yet it happens often.

Thankfully the birth registrar and the passport office, whatever their flaws, aren’t that desperately lazy. So it appears to be my legally documented name. If I’ve made the effort, and taken the twenty-odd years of abuse for signing them, there’s probably a good reason for their inclusion.

It also annoys me on automated bank forms and the like, where it says ‘middle initial’ and only lets you enter one character.
‘I’ve got two middle initials.’
Well, in that case, please decide which of the two dead grandfathers you never met should have their existence acknowledged in our records – one, or neither.

If neither had existed I wouldn’t be here. If there was only one I’d just be half the man I am today.”

This will explain, I hope, why your letter addressed to “Mr J R Mills” has irked me to the extent that I am contacting you.

Furthermore, for reasons that lie somewhere in the early or mid 1980s when my maternal grandmother opened this Halifax Savings Account for me, you have always added an “Esq” after my name. I have never been entirely sure why, and when I opened my current account a couple of years ago I was informed that it would now be difficult to remove from your systems.

I accepted this, it being no great shakes despite you being the only company in my experience to ever append it. Attention to detail is important, though, and I find it excessive that you used it twice in succession. Perhaps you were trying to butter me up by calling me “Mr J R Mills Esq Esq”, or maybe it was a piss-take by your admin staff – taking umbrage at the first Esq and sarcastically adding a second? Either way, I am happy for you to drop both of them in future. I have no requirement to be titled in such a way.

Incidentally, while researching (a loose term I use to cover a look on the internet powered by a world-famous search engine) the correct application of Esq, I found a BBC article on the subject. To quote directly from it:

“Esquire is more formal than Mr, and only used in written correspondence,” says Charles Kidd, editor of Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage. “It’s more old fashioned, and you would only use it on an envelope.”

The article continues with an example which, adapted to this situation, clarifies: the envelope would be addressed to “Jordan R.A. Mills, Esq” but the invitation card itself would read “Mr Jordan R.A. Mills”.

At least, that is my interpretation of it. Some other sites question the abbreviating of full names to mere letters when the Esq suffix is added. They agree, however, that Mr and Esq should not be used in conjunction.

The upshot of all of this is, I have finally decided to try and have your records altered. The change-of-name page on your website came up as “unavailable” when I tried to access it this afternoon. I found another way to do it once logged into my online banking, and read through the instructions. Unfortunately, among the list of acceptable forms of identification, you do not list a passport. My passport is the only recognisable proof that I have to hand. Hence this letter.

Please remove the Esq suffix from my name, it has been there forever and there really is no need for it. I am content to be a plain old “Mr.”

As for the rest of my name, please add my second initial (preferable) or remove the existing one. As stated, I do not feel it is in your jurisdiction to acknowledge or deny the existence of half of my male antecedents.

Your cooperation in this matter is appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

Jordan R.A. Mills

Bank of Scotland Tweets


MP3 Does Not Impress Me.

Despite having close to thirty-five-thousand of them, I have no real affinity with MP3s. I consider them largely valueless.

My first single was bought on vinyl, my first albums were on cassette. I was slow to embrace the CD, which was prohibitively priced at the time, and the ten MiniDiscs I own were bought cheaply when that format became obsolete.

Cassettes were my medium of choice, I was buying them and making mixtapes while vinyl was dying out and as CDs were coming in. Tapes were a constant, and I am of the generation that taped songs off the radio, finger poised over the “pause” button to try and eliminate the DJ’s prattling. Thanks to the media hype, I have – or had – a home recording of the chart show, the week that Oasis released “Roll With It” and Blur’s “Country House” contested it for the number one spot. I believed I was taping music history, although I had neutralised my vote by buying both singles.

I discovered Iron Maiden by chance, listening to the chart show and hearing them for the first time. I spent months waiting to hear them again, realising years later that the chart show was the only occasion on which they ever got any airplay. The track I heard was on a live album, which I could not afford (being a new release), but I found it on another album by them. By accident, then, my first Maiden album was their seminal work – I bought “Number Of The Beast” in Woolworths for £6.99, having heard the 1992 live version of Hallowed Be Thy Name.

 

I loved that album, I instantly loved Maiden: the artwork, the lyrics, the music. I spent all of my pocket money acquiring their other albums, poring over the sleevenotes and learning the names and instruments of the band members, the album chronology, and the lyrics. When I was not buying albums, I bought patches and sewed them to my denim jacket. I listened to Maiden constantly, and a book that I saw in a supermarket told me that they, along with other acts named within, were Heavy Metal. I had heard the term, with no idea of the bands involved, but now I knew. I quickly bought compilation albums which, despite the difference in styles, first introduced me to Black Sabbath, Motorhead, and Venom. My taste started diverse, and broadened.

While I discovered huge numbers of classic rock and metal bands, finding my way to thrash, black metal, industrial, and every other conceivable sub-genre, my love for Maiden remained undiminished. I spent entire student loans tracking down all formats of their albums and singles, picture discs and shaped vinyls, expanding into every realm of merchandise that I encountered. I bought my first band shirt in 1998, with money from my seventeenth birthday, and I wore my new Best Of The Beast shirt to their gig – my first ever gig – at the Barrowlands a month later. I still have that shirt, its pristine black now a very light grey and the lettering faded to almost non-existence. It is more holes than shirt these days, threatening to disintegrate if you look at it for too long.

My tastes changed, and my obsession with them faded like the shirt. However, there were a few happy years spent in pursuit of that rare record that would complete my collection of picture discs; that CD single which was only released in Australia, or the one that was sold exclusively online; the North American editions of the first two albums, which both held tracks not available on the UK versions. I traipsed the second-hand record shops of Glasgow, and then I scoured ebay, enjoying the thrill of the chase and the leap my heart gave when I acquired a new piece. It is good to have passion in your life, even if it is a passion for a band that is not to everybody’s taste.

Maiden collectionAbove: You could download the music illegally, but you would be missing out.

I remember the joy I had, tracking down these rare items. There were tapes that I literally wore out, I listened to them that much. My cassettes have been unplayable for a decade, yet I still have them all (in storage.) My Minidisc player still works, having lasted longer than the format did, and I use it regularly. I accumulated a couple of thousand CDs, which furnish my flat despite the fact I never play them – my stereo’s CD player broke a long time ago, and I just play the ripped files rather than put the physical CD into the laptop every time.

MP3s are convenient, they take up very little space in a room, and yet they are soulless. They have no tangible quality, no resale value, and limited nostalgia. I recall my first downloading experience because it was so new and so novel. It is hard to imagine that anyone will get the same thrill now the conventions and software have become so established.

Last week, I was trying to decide what to listen to. Thirty-five-thousand files is a lot of music, and a lot of choice, but it is a very long list to meander through and not all of it is categorised, or it has been categorised by someone who does not share my opinion of which genre classification should be used. It is far easier, I discovered, to walk over to my shelves, find the dance albums, browse the spines of the CDs, and decide that way. That seems to defeat the purpose somewhat.

When my Grandma died, she bequeathed me her record collection. I have all of the LPs that belonged to her and to my Grandpa, whom I never met. These records are entirely reminiscent of her, of her house, and of my years spent visiting her. They are stained with nicotine and age, infused with the smell of cigarette smoke that permeated the cardboard sleeves over several decades. Some of them have their (and thus my) surname written on in biro, all of them are tangible relics – when I remove a record I am carefully holding it by the same edges that my grandparents grasped, deftly locating it on the spindle, and noticing the same hiss and clicks and crackles that they heard.

When I touch these items, I am touching my past. I am connecting physically with people who are no longer here.

You will never convince me that digital media can ever compare.

 

 


Averse To Adverts

I despise advertising, and take what steps I can to avoid it. It is not exactly easy.

I think Bill Hicks said it best, or at least most succinctly, when he advocated “if you are in Advertising or Marketing, kill yourself.”

 

Another notable quote is the speech that Chuck Palahniuk wrote into the mouth of Tyler Durden, in his novel Fight Club:

“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history. No purpose or place. We have no Great War, No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t”

It is increasingly difficult to avoid adverts, and even with the most stringent efforts it is impossible for those with all five senses to fully do so. I take what measures I can, however – I have never owned a set-top box and, since the cessation of the analogue service, no longer have a television signal. The shows I want to see, I either eventually buy them on DVD (there not being any real rush to see a given programme) or download (a lesser-used option as I do not have a broadband connection.) DVDs generally have no adverts, and people who upload things first do the public service of cutting out the ad breaks.

Having had no television signal/box for nine years now, the only thing I have ever really missed was the news. That changed when I realised that modern media journalism had used, as a blueprint, the once-satirical work of Chris Morris. “The Day Today” was so brilliantly accurate that, for the initial minute when seeing it for the first time (back when it was originally broadcast) I half-mistook it for a genuine news show. It seems to have set the bar to which all current affairs programmes now aspire.

 

There is an added beauty to having no TV signal, aside from it being very easy to avoid the trap of settling down to idly flick endlessly through fifty channels of an evening – the majority of them showing repeats, and funded by sponsors, commercials, and product placement. I remember when people complained when programmes were repeated on terrestrial television within a year of being first shown – the expectation now is that shows will be repeated in an hour. As well as avoiding unending hours of drivel, and cherry-picking the things I want to see – rather than relying on those that happen to be on at a particular moment – if you do not watch TV as it is broadcast then there is no requirement to purchase a licence.

Not only am I avoiding that three-figure annual fee, but I see less adverts telling me how much prettier and sexually active I will be if only I drown myself in this aftershave/eat this sandwich/sell all of my gold/drink this nutrition-free beverage/buy cheaper car insurance. Furthermore, I can easily avoid the tedious monotony of meerkats and opera singers that so infuriate the majority of the people in my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

As far as those mentioned social media sites go, I have installed various ad-blockers that filter out some (though sadly not all) adverts. Commercials do nothing to enhance our lives, instead preying on our fears and insecurities to sell us things we don’t need and can usually ill-afford. I understand that they do offer substantial income for virtually every comedian I ever held any respect for, most of whom undermined their integrity at the prospect of receiving a hefty cheque. To return once more to the insightful Bill Hicks:

“Here’s the deal, folks. You do a commercial – you’re off the artistic roll call, forever. End of story. Okay? You’re another whore at the captialist gang bang and if you do a commercial, there’s a price on your head. Everything you say is suspect and every word that comes out of your mouth is now like a turd falling into my drink.”

I am not, or certainly try not, to come across as smugly superior about avoiding adverts. It is virtually impossible to completely do so – there are always magazines and billboards and newspapers and signs in pub toilets, posters and (negating any argument about how we must conserve energy and save the planet) flat screen displays running twenty-four-seven in certain tube stations and on the streets. I purposely bypass what I can, and endeavour to ignore the rest. Growing up, my Grandma would always mute the ad breaks if we were watching something, to enable conversation. I find myself doing the same, whenever I am visiting friends or family: I am more interested in engaging with the people I care about.

You only have one life, and you should not have it dictated to you what products you should purchase. It should certainly not be the mandate of companies who know nothing about you, whose sole concern is the generation of further profits. If you are so inclined, you do not have to allow yourself to be sunjected to this incessant onslaught. As Banksy wrote, incorporated into the graphic which inspired this post:

banksy-on-advertising


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]

 

 


Dubious Claims To Fame – 16

It is a shame that I termed these stretched anecdotes about minor brushes with celebrity as dubious – in hindsight, this one would be better classed as notorious.

I grew up just outside Glasgow, but close enough that I always called myself Glaswegian. My childhood weekends were spent, almost without fail, in the nearby town of East Kilbride. It is a vastly depressing collection of roundabouts connecting housing estates in which you could be lost for years, with a town centre that gradually expanded and was roofed over to form one of the biggest indoor shopping malls in Europe. They were unjustifiably proud of this, and I fucking hate shopping malls. I hate the sterile, homogenised design of them. I hate that there are prescribed paths that can’t be deviated from (as opposed to city centres with quiet side-streets), the piping in of nauseating music, the mandatory air-conditioning – which would be  a lot less appealing if they just called it what it is, recycled breath – and I hate the fact that every shopping mall offers pretty much the same shops and chain stores. I once read an in-house magazine I got with a pair of boots, due to a lack of other reading material on a lengthy bus-ride home, and the international shoe shop was celebrating that they had just opened a branch in Dubai. There was nothing in the picture to differentiate this Dubai branch from the one down the road from me. I fucking hate shopping malls.

East Kilbride was bigger than the town I grew up in, and my remaining grandparents both lived there, and so we regularly went to the shopping centre prior to visiting them. There was a nine-screen UCI cinema in the newest part of the centre, back when such things were a novelty, and for a very long time you had to travel to EK to find a branch of any of the many fast food “restaurants” that now (over)populate every high street. I spent too much of my life in that awful mall, as I also worked in it for nearly four years, and I consider it a blessing that I no longer have to venture there. I purposely avoid the much closer St. Enoch Centre and Buchanan Galleries too, such is my aversion to this clinical and uninspired shopping “experience.”

One day, many years ago now, I was in EK’s shopping centre and saw the huge crowd gathered around the (thawed-out) ice rink. The crowd sprawled all round the sides of the rink, filling both levels of the nearby food court and spilling all the way up both sides of the stairway that rose to a half-landing and then doubled back to reach the level of the cinema. People of all ages were pressed several deep against every barrier, craning to see. At the time it was exciting and novel, back when television and the people on it were magical and enchanted. It became clear that they were filming part of a talent show.

This was not your Pop Idol or X Factor, this was far more amateurish and (presumably) far less engineered into the guise of a soap opera. It was in the public conscious, certainly, but to a much lesser extent than those slickly produced, Cowell’s-pocket-lining contests which eventually followed. This was one man, then a household name on the back of his extensive performing and presenting careers, inviting people to get up on a makeshift stage and “have a go” – whatever their talent or skill, they would be filmed as he watched, laughed, or occasionally joined in as farcically as possible. The show was called “My Kind Of People.”

In hindsight, we all know precisely what kind of people were Michael Barrymore’s kind of people – and if you don’t know, watch a few repeats of Mock The Week or read this. Back then, though, he was most famous for Strike It Lucky/Rich.

There isn’t much to say, which is why I foreshadowed this by calling it a stretched anecdote, but I did stick around long enough to watch some jugglers and singers, and to see them film a few crowd shots. Barrymore would be seen driving around the country in his sports car, which he would then drive into each location. He was filmed a few times “arriving” on the empty ice-rink, doing laps and waving to the crowd, and we were all instructed to cheer and wave back. The way I remember it, it actually had more in common with Stewart Lee’s opening (fifteen years later) for his first series of Comedy Vehicle.

I think I watched the episode I had seen being filmed, but they had changed the opening and none of that footage was used – par for the course, as I discovered when I began working in the industry – however, as fleeting and disconnected as it was, that was probably the closest I’ve come to having a claim to infamy instead.

*** Edited to add the note below ***

I posted this blog to my facebook and twitter accounts, and am amazed that my friend Craig has been able to link me, almost immediately, to this very episode on youtube.


Dubious Claims To Fame – 8

I don’t generally consider meetings in my line of work as claims to fame, as I’m sure I’ve explained here previously. It’s something of a given, working in theatre, film, and television, that you are going to have minor brushes with celebrated faces and personalities. There are plenty of people out there who will regale you with tales of how they “worked with” some famous actor or comedian, when what they mean is that they positioned lights to shine on them, or rigged a PA so they could be heard, or some other far more mundane interaction which doesn’t merit the implied collaboration of that phrase “worked with.”

I’ve met a few blowhards too, who will drop the names of everybody they can think of, just for the sake of it and, I guess, to make themselves seem interesting. I’m not interesting, not in the slightest, but I do at least try and write up my experiences in a way that will hopefully be broadly entertaining to read. I can tell from the site stats that nobody reads any of it anyway, yet. So it doesn’t really matter what I write here.

I was working on a film called New Town Killers, which stars the actor Dougray Scott. I am fine with dropping his name, because – for all his international success – my greatest claim to fame regarding him is a family connection: my grandmother was his godmother, and she stayed close friends with his mum. It is very hard to be phased by a big-name Hollywood star and once widely-rumoured new James Bond when you know your aunt has long claimed (embarrasedly) to have accidentally dropped him on his head while babysitting him.

We were dressing a set in an empty office block and, if you’ve seen the film, it was for the squat – a dirty, graffitied mess of a flat. We piled in all manner of salvaged cupboards and units, a filthy mattress, couches and furniture, broken bits of bikes, traffic cones, and all kinds of other things that made the place look lived-in but not cared-for. A street artist came in and did some very big pieces on the walls, and we all added to it with tags (or “menchies” in local parlance) – if you look very closely, you can see my spraypainted initials  in the back of several shots.

Under instruction, we scoured the disused building we were in, looking for any abandoned items we could dress into the set. I had already gone on a mission to get flyers and posters from local clubs and so on, and these were used to cover windows and provide further background detail. I had also found, while scouring the various floors, an unused Health And Safety sign, of the type required to be displayed in business premises by law. I added it on the wall beside the flyers, but I knew it couldn’t stay – it looked out of place, was too noticeable.

It was about this time that the director arrived on the set, to see for the first time how we had transformed the space. The film was being directed by Richard Jobson, and I was more excited about his involvement in the piece, on account of my teenage punk fixation and on account of his previous career singing for The Skids. He walked into the room and looked around, happy with what he saw. It was at this point I was putting up the H&S sign, and realising it couldn’t stay. I had an idea, though, that might help it blend in.

He took a call on his mobile, and sat down in a manky armchair in the middle of the room. While he was chatting, and unsure how it would be received, I got the biggest permanent marker I could find, and – in large black letters – wrote “BOLLOCKS” in block capitals diagonally across the poster. It was at this point he interrupted his conversation to say distractedly to the person on the other end “Sorry, I’m just watching someone write ‘bollocks’ on the wall, and I wish it was me.”

So that was the time my rebellious attitude to authority was approved by the guy who co-wrote and sang “Into The Valley.”

 


Nosey Neighbours, And Not Afraid To Admit It.

My Grandma had a massive and profound influence on my life, and I owe her a lot. She died shortly after my 18th birthday, and now I’m 30 I still miss her. She lives on in memories, though, and in turns of phrase and little sayings that she had. Her parting words as we left after a visit were always “If I don’t see you through the week I’ll see you through the window.” With reference to some victorious Glaswegian boxer she had heard interviewed on the radio decades previously, she would often tell us “I said I’d dae it and I done it.” And many were the times she praised me with the words “The boy done good.”

She lived in the one house for as long as I knew her, the former family home, and latterly had a friendship with a neighbour who lived out the back, across the communal path that separated one row of terraced houses from the next. This neighbour was a heavier, but not unpleasant, woman, and often she would be round having tea when we routinely called in. My Grandma eventually fell out with her, a story my sister reminded me of today, and I still remember her indignation at the time.

This woman, Pat, called round one Sunday afternoon, chapping the back door as was the norm. My Grandma let her in, and in the course of the conversation Pat let slip that she had half expected us to be there – “But I looked out my window, and I could see in your window that it didn’t look like you had guests, so I just came over.”

My Grandma expressed surprise at this revelation. “You can see in my living room window from your house?” she asked.

“Well, yes, if I go in the back bedroom and stand on a chair.”

 

I still remember my Grandma telling us this story on our next visit – not just the nerve of this woman, but the fact she had so brazenly admitted to habitually just having a gaze into my Grandma’s front room. She laughed at the recollection, but she wasn’t happy.

I think that’s what I remember best about her, her laugh.
If I try hard, I can still hear it.

I miss it.