I lost my job because of Paul Di’Anno. The original Iron Maiden vocalist wasn’t directly responsible, but he was partly involved – inasmuch as I skipped work to go to a signing he was doing at a record fayre.
It was 2003 and I was working in Index, The Catalogue Shop. If you can’t remember that particular chain, imagine Argos but with less sophisticated clientele. I was principally in at weekends, and the shop would regularly look like a bomb had gone off by the end of the day – catalogues, order forms, pens, and fast food debris strewn over every available surface. This was the shop where somebody ran off with one of the stereos that was on display, the police were called, and he was caught when he came back for the speakers.
In hindsight, I actually really enjoyed working there. We got away with a lot, we had a good laugh, we got loads of shit from arsehole customers, but we were also afforded responsibility and quite a high degree of trust. We abused the managers, of course, but compared to some people I have worked for since, they were remarkably reasonable people on the whole. More often than not, we all got on pretty well and had fun. At the time, I didn’t appreciate it quite so much.
The job could be quite demoralising, not helped by the deplorable bus “service” that I was forced to rely on, and I was late for my shifts more often than not. I got warnings about it, which didn’t improve my demeanour, and I know for a fact that I missed out on a promotion or two because of it.
The breaking point came when they refused me holidays one weekend, on a Saturday in March 2003 (as I recall.) It was a few days before Paul Di’Anno played a solo show at the Barfly, and as a long-time diehard Maiden fan, it was his first visit to Glasgow since I got into them. There was no way that I was passing up the opportunity to meet their first frontman, and to get oodles of merchandise signed. Nowadays, I’m less phased by it all – my love of Maiden has waned, and I don’t really bother with autographs unless I think it will eventually increase the value of the rarer stuff I still have. I spent close to £3000 accumulating my Maiden record collection – all kinds of memorabilia – and at some point I will sell it all, but the sheer amount of money and time I spent gathering it all should indicate my devotion to them back then. I phoned in sick from the train to the SECC, and my boss told me I had to come in as they were understaffed and had refused my holiday for that reason. I apologised but said that I would be absent.
The record fayre was large and well laid out, but very quiet. I browsed various stalls and picked up some more rare gems, a phrase I deliberately chose to use there because it sounds so utterly wanky. “Rare gems” – read: promo CDs, a scarf, a 12-inch or two. Di’Anno was there with some woman, I presume his mrs, and was predominantly occupied with signing and plugging copies of his autobiography. I bought the book, and got him to sign – looking back – a quite significant amount of stuff. He signed some of Maiden’s first singles and LPs, a Japan-only release, some rare US and Canadian pressings, a back-patch that I have never yet seen another of, some cassettes, and probably more besides. I actually got one promo CD signed by Blaze Bayley seven years later, and was surprised to discover when I got home that it had already been signed on the inside by Di’Anno. That was how much of my collection he autographed – I couldn’t even keep track of it all.
The proceeds from his book were going to some cancer charity, if I remember correctly. I do remember, vividly, that his mrs approached me as I walked away having chatted to him and got him to sign everything. She said that really, since he had graciously done that for me, I should donate a tenner to the charity bucket. I was caught so off-guard by this, eyes glazed over and happy at having met someone who fronted my then-favourite band, that I didn’t protest and just fished a note out of my wallet and handed it over, unquestioningly.
Once I read his book, and its revelations about his fondness for a particular marching drug, and about the fortunes he has made and lost, I had my doubts as to where that ten quid was truly destined. The general critical opinion of his autobiography was that the recollections therein should be taken with a large pinch of salt, and in the subsequent band biographies Paul has always been portrayed as being a little wayward, and a bit loose with the truth. His stories are wild and not always particularly reliable. However, he was certainly friendly and amiable, happy to talk and to answer my questions, although I wouldn’t ever want to cross him. He gets a lot of stick for trading on his past, since he only did two albums with Maiden thirty years ago, but it is increasingly well known that he sold all of his rights back to the band a decade ago now. He might sing the songs live and cover them on his CDs, but he makes no money from them any more. That might account for the benefit fraud that landed him in jail last year…
His band played a gig a few nights later, and it was a set almost entirely of Maiden songs and a cover of “Faith Healer” – enjoyable, but I’ve forgotten most of it now. Like Index, the venue folded a few years later and neither company exists now. When I went back to work later that week, I had a disciplinary hearing and received a written warning, but I had already lined up other work in the theatre and with the Inland Revenue (which also no longer exists under that name, incidentally.) It didn’t surprise my boss when I went in and just passed her my resignation letter across the desk. When I served my notice and left, it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders, and I realised how unhappy I had become working there. Nine years later, I look back fondly on those days – it was just a completely different time in my life. We got up to a lot of nonsense, but it was great fun. No regrets.
Di’Anno has played here once or twice since, but I’ve never made the effort to go and see him again. Not because I fear for losing another job, more due to a lack of interest as my taste in music has broadened and shifted. Maybe I’ll catch him again some day.
A few years ago, when I was still a Glaswegian trapped in Hamilton and before I escaped to the city that is rightfully my home, I used to voluntarily work backstage for most of the local amateur theatre groups. They were largely based in (or performed at) the Town Hall, as it then was. It has since undergone refurbishment and become The Townhouse – a delusion of grandeur that it didn’t really merit. When I went back there to see it, prior to it being reopened to the public, I had it pointed out to me that all the scenery and flight cases now have to be loaded in through a double door made entirely of glass. It looks very pretty, if you like your architecture of glass and steel, but it is exceptionally impractical for a door that will be in such heavy and potentially-destructive use.
While the building was closed for this makeover, and other changes they made included taking all the fun out of flying the scenery – the very thing that caught my interest when I started – one local group took to performing their shows in Motherwell instead. If Hamilton is too small and depressing, Motherwell is worse. Beyond that is Wishaw, and then after that you’re in Wild West country. Here is an example.
I took the bus over to Motherwell that first night of the week’s run, but I wasn’t entirely sure of my bearings – having managed to avoid that town for some years – and couldn’t tell, in the dark and looking through windows thick with condensation on the inside and muck on the outside, where to get off. Naturally, perhaps inevitably, I missed my stop. In the middle of nowhere, or at least in unfamiliar territory, I decided my best option was to stay on the bus and wait for it to make the final stop, turn around, and head back. Then I could admit my error and ask the driver to let me know when to get off.
Eventually, I was the last person on the bus. The driver shouted up and asked me where I was going, as this was the final stop, and I told him I’d long since missed my destination and would jump off on the way back. That was when he told me he wasn’t going back, as his shift was finished. He said he would drop me off though, and told me to move down and sit on the seats directly behind his cab.
I had been sitting maybe four rows into the bus, on the right hand side as I faced forward. There was one seat behind the driver’s cab, which faced the aisle, and another the other side of the wheel arch, and then rows of double seats on both sides all the way to the back of the bus. As instructed, I moved down to this new seat and sat down. The driver switched the main gangway lights off, and we drove on in relative darkness. I don’t know where I was, but it was some winding country road with little ambient light.
About twenty seconds after I relocated, if that, a half-brick came hurtling through the window beside the very seat I had been sitting on. I don’t know if the driver anticipated that or just wanted to be able to put the lights off, but the fact that it arrived so suddenly, and precisely where I had been sitting, right after he told me to move, rattled me no end. The rest of the journey was very cold, on account of the shattered window (the rest of it fell in on the course of the journey), but I did make it to my stop eventually.
I can’t remember, even vaguely, which show I was working on. It might have been South Pacific, but I wouldn’t put money on it. I can’t remember when exactly this happened – other than the early 2000s – but what I do remember, quite vividly, is the time that I missed receiving a brick in the face and a mouthful of broken glass by mere seconds. I’m glad that I was told to move, and happier that I did so. Timing is everything.
A couple of winters ago, I was living in a different part of the city. You meet a different type of person on the buses that go down Paisley Road West than you do on the buses that go up Great Western Road, which is a statement of fact and not a judgement, and this involved the former. It was a cold December night, a few days before the major celebration of that month, and the bus was packed full. I sat next to a black man of average build, who was in the window seat. Directly behind him there was a bigger-built black guy with a mean look on his face, and next to this guy was the evening’s Bus Arsehole – a drunk, mouthy, Glaswegian woman of forty or fifty.
The guy next to me was having a conversation with the gent behind him, I presume in their native tongue but short of knowing that it wasn’t English or one of the main Romanic languages, I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess as to precisely which dialect they were using. The big guy was happy enough when leaning forward and chatting this way, but he didn’t like the interjections from the Bus Arsehole – and it wasn’t hard to fathom why. She sat behind me, tutting loudly every time they spoke, and making a point of doing so in such a way that they would notice her disgruntlement.
The guy next to me was very affable, and starting talking to the woman in English – apologetically, for reasons I will come to. Whenever those two spoke, the big guy sat back into his seat, his demeanour changing and his engagement in social interaction replaced with the kind of scowl that suggests you will have the fuck knocked out of you if you even looked at him.
“Yous should talk in English,” the woman told the guy sitting diagonally in front of her (and next to me.) I bit my tongue and didn’t point out that we have our own recognisably distinct version of English – Scots – which made her remark a little hypocritical. Instead, I listened as the guy next to me apologised profusely and tried to explain why they were talking in their own language – as if it somehow needed justified to this inebriated stranger.
“Yous should speak English, so’s that other people know what yous urr saying,” she said. That was the moment when I joined in, siding with the guy next to me. “Mate, it’s none of her fucking business what you’re saying, don’t apologise!” Technically I had been doing as she wanted to – listening in to something that didn’t involve me – but since I was in such close proximity there was no way I could have reasonably been expected to have avoided it.
“Whit you sayin’ tae it?” she demanded of me, refocusing her attention and launching into a tirade of personal abuse, to which I responded by calling her an Earywigging Bastard. The big guy sat there next to her, stony-faced and saying nothing, and the man next to me continued to try and humbly defuse the situation. I wasn’t rising to it though, I can handle myself well enough against verbal abuse from drunk arseholes, and especially in my home city. Could you imagine that she would go to some far-off country with a friend then speak in that country’s native language and not her own? No.
I stayed calm and ignored her, and a few stops later when it was time to get off the bus I embraced the “Goodwill To All Men” spirit of the season. As I got out of my seat and headed towards the door, I turned and said to her – cheerfully, with a warm smile, and knowing it would probably wind her up even more, me being something of a wind-up merchant – “Have a good Christmas.”
“Have a good Christmas?!” she asked, as if that was the biggest insult she had ever taken. If she answered back to that, I didn’t hear it as I had already stepped off the bus. I have never experienced anything like that before or since, someone being so blatantly rude, arrogant, and nosey – “talk in my language so I can understand what you are saying.” Fuck off, it’s none of your business! Arseholes like that bring this city down.
A week later, I was in the town meeting a few friends and acquaintances and – small world that it is – the guy who had been sitting next to me was working in the pub we went to. We remembered each other, and shared an acknolwedgement of where from and a brief hello. I haven’t seen him since, but I hope he no longer excuses himself for holding private conversations in whichever language he sees fit.
The recent fare hike (another one) is making cycling look like a viable alternative: ten all-day tickets would pay for a wee second-hand two-wheeler, although they have pre-empted this loss in custom by making the buses and bicycles use the same lanes of the road – if you’re on a bike within the vicinity of one of First Glasgow’s buses you’re taking your life in your hands.
Despite this increase in fares, and with no significant improvements after the last hike – their fleet is still filthy on the outside, smelly and rubbish-strewn on the inside, with ill-mannered and impatient drivers who succeed in hitting every pothole available to them as they create others – they have instead invested money in providing wi-fi on one route, for no feasible reason, and also despatched one of their staff to hand out bunches of roses to unsuspecting passengers in the week prior to Valentine’s Day. Hardly fucking relevant.
I am reminded, too, of a piece I wrote for my stand-up set: “First Glasgow’s timetable is the greatest work of fiction in existence – no matter how many times you read it, you still have no idea what’s going to happen next.”
Today, I boarded the 118 service into Glasgow city centre. I fired in my £1.80, and (without a word from the driver) was issued a ticket marked £1.85 – I don’t know how they are making people aware of the change in price, but it’s certainly not through the effective and centuries-old method of verbal communication. The ticket destination was printed as Renfield Street/Hope Street – two one-way streets in the centre of the city that sit parallel to each other, with traffic flowing in opposite directions – and there was nothing untoward about it. The only slight discrepancy, and it is one I feel is worth noting here, arose in Renfrew Street, outside the RSAMD (as it will forever be known to me – none of this Arsey Ess [RCS] rename shite). Specifically, the driver pulled into the stop and switched the engine off.
“Is this the last stop?” I asked, his communication being as ineffective as before. He had parked without saying a word.
So, there you have it – First Glasgow sold me a non-transferable ticket for a journey that was longer than the one their bus actually made. I don’t mind walking (I prefer it infinitely to paying to be on their dreadful buses), but I was running to a tight schedule and so it was something of an inconvenience. Maybe the fact I had to walk past the next three or four stops is why the driver didn’t pursue me for the extra five pence, although, as I understand their five-stop fare has risen to £1.15, this seems like a disproportionate and inadequate discount on my ticket price.
Given the appalling level of service, it’s a real shame that First have the monopoly on travel in this area via First Glasgow and First Scotrail, and you can read a dedicated Twitter feed about the latter’s repeated incompetence here. For those of us sick of the steep cost of being shoogled on their filthmachines, it’s making cycling alongside the buses seem a risk worth taking.