I think that cigarette-smokers are selfish and obnoxious in their habit; that people who vape are as bad, or worse, due to the vast plumes they exhale; and that I would be morally justified in spitting in the face of anyone who blows smoke into mine. I also dislike Scotrail, my local purveyor of late trains – I run a parody account on Twitter based in my dislike of them, I have been broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live talking about my dislike of them. I do not want you to go away from this thinking, “Maybe he quite likes Scotrail” – no.
In a series of pointless endeavours, I think my favourite – in terms of sheer ineffectiveness – was Scotrail’s taking the time to post No Smoking signs across their open station platforms. Have you seen it deter anybody? I am constantly at various stations across Glasgow, and I have never once seen somebody, on the verge of igniting their cigarette, notice the signage and reconsider. Most days, I let it slide – easier to be silently annoyed than to engage with someone and ask them to act. The only thing less pleasant than the stench of tobacco smoke is a belligerent smoker who is being denied nicotine. Furthermore, in the absence of any visible staff, you are directed to make a complaint via the Information Point, essentially a speakerphone which offers no privacy and which broadcasts loudly across near-empty platforms. To do that invites a whole other level of conflict, as you plainly grass someone up, in front of them, rather than address them directly.
I have considered why Easter Monday was different. It is fair to say that I am naturally grumpy, and for a rare moment I found myself enjoying relative peace and quiet, on a deserted platform, on a bright and sunny and comparatively warm day. This brief enjoyment was interrupted by the new, unmistakable, and disagreeable odour of burning tobacco – the source of which was quickly identifiable as a woman standing opposite me across the tracks. I watched as the sole Scotrail employee, doing her rounds and wearing her yellow hi-viz vest, approached this person breaking at least the rules, and possibly the law (despite it not being an enclosed space, I think the legislation was extended to encompass it. Scotrail is certainly quoted in the media as saying they would involve British Transport Police in such instances, should anyone refuse to comply with the ban.)
There was no admonishment. The woman, who had since sat on a metal bench, looked up as the employee passed, and there was some simple greeting in that moment – a smiled “Hi”, a slight raising of eyebrows perhaps: a shared and friendly acknowledgement of each other’s existence. The employee continued on her way, reaching the nearest No Smoking notice just seconds later. It was at this point, having observed the behaviour several times before, and with time on my hands as I waited on my delayed train, that I took the main course of action pursued by many of us – and used social media as a means of complaint.
Scotrail’s online grouch responded quickly, wanting to know if I had “made the staff aware.” Aware of what – the rule of law? A gap in their training or in their enactment of it? Of the duties involved in carrying out the job for which she was being paid? I answered with a degree of cheekiness, expecting this conversation to go nowhere – as most complaints to Scotrail (and all of their cancelled trains) do. It was their next reply that firmly angered me.
“Our staff wouldn’t walk past somehow smoking and not say anything,” I was curtly informed, with the blind indignant allegiance often reserved for use by the parents of children who bully, or who otherwise commit misdemeanours. I know what I saw. I could have filmed the infraction, and provided visual evidence, but I am not given to this imposition on people’s lives – you do not want to be recorded doing your job unsatisfactorily, nor having a wee seat with your bags of shopping, neither do I and I have no desire to make such intrusive records of other people. There is likely to be footage, of course, thanks to the prevalence of CCTV cameras – all they would need to do is look at the coverage of Platform Two, from 2:10pm on Monday 17th April.
Our conversation proceeded exactly as predicted. Not content to merely disavow facts with a quickness to rival that of America’s premier liar-in-chief, they also mimicked President Trump’s use of the “gaslighting” technique. Finally, defending themselves by referencing my choice of vocabulary, I was promised assistance and promptly ignored – the wall was up, no correspondence would be entered into because I had written a sweary-word. I could let them know next time, they said, and they would act. I countered that I had let them know this time, but they had showed no interest. Why would I waste my time again? Why did they waste theirs, putting up signs that seem to be purely decorative? At best, complaints are discouraged (“Please use the loudhailer to alert the entire vicinity”) or mishandled, and, at worst, they are completely disregarded and your personal credibility will be disputed. I was eventually given a link, to make it formal, but I have no reason to believe it would achieve anything. Instead, I have written and will publicly share this, feeling better that I have used the experience creatively.
I first attended a live music gig in October 1998 and, writing in April 2017, I have been to about three-hundred-and-fifty others since then. I did not intend to become someone who travels around the country, and occasionally the continent or across oceans, in the pursuit of hearing my favourite bands – but that is who I am. It is possible that I just grew older and cantankerous, but it is equally possible that gig-going has been ruined by online ticket sales, the secondary resale market, and self-obsessed pricks with camera-phones.
It was in 2000 that I began to regularly attend concerts, buying tickets in person from one agent that still exists and two record stores that have closed down. Occasionally, I would buy from the venue direct – the crowning glory being a ticket in the second row of the Edinburgh Playhouse stalls to see Alice Cooper with Dio. I was in the right place at the right time to see the Lostprophets’ first ever Glasgow gig, and Pantera’s last. The influence of a friend (and the cancellation of his scheduled T In The Park festival appearance) meant that I saw David Bowie play what became his final Scottish show. I watched Brutal Deluxe play the Cathouse to an audience of six people, and Iron Maiden play the first Download Festival to sixty thousand. I was there when FFS (Franz Ferdinand and Sparks) played their debut live show, and I flew from Glasgow to Los Angeles just to witness a rare 75-minute Combichrist techno set. In short, my experience has been as wide and varied as my taste in music.
I still enjoy going to smaller club shows (aside from the insufferable selfie-takers, iphone photographers, and especially those who film video with their phones in portrait mode), but trying to obtain tickets for anything popular has become so much of a chore that it has sucked the joy right out of the whole endeavour. Chronologically, my recent gripes have been with the Reeves & Mortimer tour cancellation; Penn and Teller’s UK tour; Alice Cooper’s 2017 presales; and the BBC 6 Music Festival.
Bob Mortimer required emergency heart surgery, meaning that he was unable to perform as scheduled. See Tickets refunded, but kept the transaction fees that everybody had been charged when booking seats – leaving me three pounds out of pocket. Now consider, they had sold out venues every night, each averaging about two thousand seats. Suddenly it is apparent that See skimmed several thousand pounds off a man’s poor health – which is pretty reprehensible.
In 2016, when I was trying to buy four individual tickets to see my favourite band play in four UK cities, See advised me that they offer no “add to basket” option, and would force me to pay a transaction fee on each brief. Thankfully, I used individual agencies and went to the venues own sites and managed to pay a more sensible amount.
Lately, it has frustrated me that both Iron Maiden and Ricky Gervais have opted to use Ticketmaster in their seemingly noble bids to combat touts. Ticketmaster IS the tout – they operate two different secondary resale sites, with alleged evidence that some briefs are diverted for sale there without ever having been made available through the primary channel. Iron Maiden have claimed success with their “ticketless ticketing” system for the 2017 UK tour, while Gervais inflated the price of premium seats himself – giving the additional spend to charity, but again limiting access to only the wealthiest. Despite their assertions, it is not “fairer to the fans” that these high profile acts endorse the one ticketing agency that we all feel ripped off by.
In December 2016, I decided to jump on my chance to see magicians Penn and Teller, whose television career I have been following since the mid-1990s when Channel Four aired “The Unpleasant World of” show. I soon learned that TicketSoup, which was formed by and used to cover sales for Glasgow’s SECC and Clyde Auditorium, had been taken over by or merged with the dreaded Ticketmaster. So began the pain – I logged on and selected (from an interactive plan) the seats that I wanted, at which point an instructional box popped up. Due to high demand, it informed me, I would be unable to select my own seats and instead it would offer me whatever was available. My chosen seats at the front of the first circle had been greyed out, and in their place would I like two seats on the fourth level, three rows from the back wall of the theatre? Not knowing any better, I accepted, suddenly miles from where I wanted to be to see the performance. Insult to injury, the next day a second date was announced, and when idle curiosity (or masochism) made me look at availability, I could have at least had third level. I cannot say that I hold the same enthusiasm, knowing that I was deliberately diverted into buying seats so bad that I will be watching expert sleight of hand from virtually outside.
That same month, Alice Cooper announced his first UK tour for five years – excitement soon tempered when it was revealed that these gigs in standing arenas would be all seated. If you wanted to be at the front of the stage, you would have to find a seat located there – and good luck to you. Presales were announced on his official site and for customers of two different corporations – one telephones, one home energy. The next day, there would be presales through Ticketmaster and AXS, and on the individual venue pages, followed by general sale the day after that. You had seven places to try, therefore, in pursuit of a decent spot – more, if you planned to try and catch a couple of shows, and his diehard fans often travel to see the lot.
He did at least guarantee a ticket near the front, provided you paid a premium for one of four different “VIP” packages that were on offer. No need for luck, all you need is money – specifically, £482.50 to sit in the front row (and meet him, and various other unnecessary stuff – merchandise and photo opportunities and the like.) Alternatively, you could slum it in rows two to five, for just £426, and meet him but for less time – or whatever the supposed perks are. Personally, some of us just enjoy being down the front to see an iconic showman play his hits accompanied by the finest musicians he can find.
The Alice thing irked his entire fanbase, certainly on one respected and thorough forum. With all packages accounted for, his diehard fans would now be located fifteen rows from the front, behind the casual fans with money to burn, having to find the best available tickets for each location they plan to visit – a tedious process to be repeated as remaining availability dwindled at every subsequent venue on the list. The VIP experience used to be an upgrade, on previous tours, but Alice’s personal assistant (who was very sympathetic) says that sales soared when they included the ticket too. So to Hell with the fans, it is all about ticket company profits.
For my part, I was offered one seat – too far back, though in the centre section, and I declined it – and was automatically then assigned a number of seats dotted around the outskirts of the floor, declining each in the pursuit of something nearer the stage. This was in the presale, and then in the general sale I tried again – and bought again, when I found I could be in row seventeen instead of row thirty. If you want a ticket to see Alice Cooper in Glasgow this November, I have a spare to sell – it is right in front of the sound desk, so if you just want to see the show from the position which should have the best sound (since that is where the operator is listening from), then we can talk. Me, I want to be nearer the action.
I do love my music, which is why I never listen to the radio – a medium where it is used to fill gaps between irritating commercials, or as an interlude from the banal chatter of witless presenters. It was social media that alerted me the 6 Music Festival was coming to Glasgow this year, and I was so excited at the announcement of Sparks that I had to be told directly that they had further revealed a Depeche Mode gig at the relatively tiny Barrowland Ballroom. It seemed a strange choice, given the size of venue (the festival would also encompass the city’s Academy the same night, which holds more), and also for DM’s history here. Singer Dave Gahan’s immediate assertion that they’ve always had a good time here failed to ring true – they played this city in 1986, and did not come back until 2009 (they played Edinburgh in 1988, so their eventual return was twenty-one years after they had last been in Scotland, and twenty-three since they played Glasgow – where, a first-hand source told me, he saw them booed off stage for miming.) Most bands who love us and who regularly tour try to play more frequently than twice every quarter-century.
Aware of these facts, having previously had to travel to Manchester and London in 2006 to see them, my oldest friend and I had decided for various reasons that we were not going to attend any more of their UK dates. The exception, we both instantly agreed when we heard the news, would be this intimate club set. All I had to do was secure tickets.
A local club DJ stated (perhaps with inside knowledge) that 1400 tickets would be sold, in a venue that usually holds 2000, and my estimate now is that they probably did lose about a third of the capacity due to extended staging, set dressing, and the various technology required for recording and broadcasting. I submitted a Freedom Of Information request after the fact, regarding numbers, but the BBC snippily replied that they were not obliged to provide the data and refused to do so voluntarily. It would have been interesting to learn just how far demand outstripped supply.
Due to go on sale at 10am one Friday, I was poised and on the website twenty minutes ahead of time – but clicked away as, I have learned, the link quietly went live fifteen minutes early – placing customers in an online queue, and putting me thirteen minutes behind those who had already discovered the fact. By 10:08am there were no DM tickets left for me, and I hear they sold out faster than that. I could have accepted my poor fortune, if the process had seemed at all fair.
It would be reasonable to think that a portion of tickets could have been allocated for local collection in person only, as the online system was swamped with keen English people and Europeans taking advantage, in the knowledge that trains and flights and hotels can be had for a comparatively low cost. Had a percentage of tickets been kept aside for those in the vicinity, we would have camped out overnight like we used to – knowing we were being held in a queue, on account of the fact we would be able to see all of the people in it. What is the point of taking the festival to different cities every year, if you refuse to guarantee entry for at least some of those living in the vicinity? It might as well be hosted annually in London.
The online system advised not to refresh the browser page, or risk losing your place. One friend, frustrated at the lack of availability, refreshed the page and was rewarded with the option to obtain a pair – suggesting that, as well as going live prematurely, the dedicated site had glitches.
My intention had been to buy four tickets, the two I needed and a further two to sell at face value (I knew a few people looking) – I would be a hero to somebody. Instead, I failed.
The touts succeeded, of course – instantly listing on sites like Viagogo for seven, eight, nine hundred pounds. Touts used to stand outside in the rain, they invested a bit of time and effort. If you were smart, you could wait until showtime and then haggle the price – offering face value (or less) and knowing they would either take what they could get or keep hold of a worthless piece of paper. Not now. Now anybody looking to make a fast buck can do so without standing up.
The BBC reacted quickly, promising that nobody who bought on the secondary market would get in. Absolutely, definitely not. No chance. ID to be checked on the door. very strict, do not attempt it. That policy worked well – and I say that with the sarcasm of someone who bought a ticket on Twitter for the Sparks and Goldfrapp gig, and who can be seen in the BBC’s own footage, at the barrier, applauding the former after their performance of “Dick Around.” Meanwhile, another friend bought tickets for DM, and then forked out for a fake ID (which she had to order in the name of the man who had originally paid for the tickets) – not only was this ruse successful in getting her in, it makes a mockery of the whole enterprise: forced to fund the secondary ticket market AND invest in the equally immoral practice of forging identification documents.
For my part, a generous stranger purchased a ticket for me on Viagogo (the reasons for this are a story in themselves), leaving me desperately trying to find my friend a way in. This friend, I have written before, introduced me to DM and they are her band. It was imperative that she be there, to which end I racked my brains and investigated every avenue. It was hopeless.
On the Saturday, the Gigs In Scotland Twitter page announced a handful of tickets would be immediately released for every venue that evening – I can only presume that this was from the allocations reserved for the BBC, and released for sale once they knew how many staff, guests, and VIPs they expected. It was 2:27pm, and the official BBC 6 Music page retweeted the information, meaning that Gigs In Scotland was the original source of the news. Come the Sunday, I sat on their page from 1pm until 4pm, refreshing constantly, only to discover – nothing. In vain, I phoned the Barrowland, who confirmed that there would be no tickets on the door that night, and no Production tickets released. It was over. I had exhausted every option.
I phoned my friend, adamant that she take my ticket, which she refused with equal stubbornness. Short of marching her there, I had no choice but to concede. My enthusiasm was gone, replaced with the sadness of knowing that I had let down my oldest friend, my closest confidante. I had a way in for myself, but was disconnected from it – a gift from someone I have never met, unrelated to my persistence and effort. I could take it or leave it, and would have surrendered it in a moment had my friend only agreed. Instead, I used the tout-sold ticket that the BBC had definitely blocked, and went in to watch my best friend’s once-in-a-lifetime dream gig, without her.
The stage had been extended to accomodate the band, with fully grown trees felled and placed at either side as set dressing, both highlighted with ultraviolet paint. The ceiling tiles had been similarly marked, in various colours, to brand the hall in the 6 Music Festival style, and camera equipment further reduced the crowd capacity. They brought us a band who had ignored our city for most of my life, shoehorned them into a space they had made to look nothing like it usually does, and excluded most of the home audience from attending. The gig was amazing, but the overall experience was awful.
Above: In the words of Joseph Heller (Closing Time, 1994) “The Freedom of Information Act…was a federal regulation obliging government agencies to release all information they had to anyone who made application for it, except information they had that they did not want to release. And, because of this one catch in the Freedom of Information Act…they were technically not compelled to release any information at all. […] It was a good catch…because the government did not have to release any information about the information they chose not to release…”
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.
After several years dotting about the local comedy scene, which saw my 100 stand-up gigs documented in the blog that preceded this one, I have decided to do my first solo show this year. Poster, descriptions, and ticket links follow below. I hope you can make it along, I expect it to be a one-off.
If you buy tickets online in advance, you will be entered into a draw to win some comedy DVDs – details here.
Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1488221281506109/
I recently owned a beautiful keyring. Elegantly designed, it was a slim metal cylinder with one rounded end. The other end butted neatly to a small metal cube which had a circular hole through it, above which the keyring attached. The cylinder could be unscrewed – a piece of precision engineering, with a nice weight and action to it – to reveal the spiral shaft of a corkscrew, the cylinder then sliding into the hole in the cube to become the crosspiece. It was sleek, but underused. In the two years I had it attached to my keys, alongside a bottle opener that has accompanied me for a decade, it served its hidden purpose only a handful of times.
In honesty, I had forgotten there was a corkscrew on my keyring, because I used it as a keyring more than as a means of removing the stops from wine bottles. I was only reminded of the fact in the same instance that I ceased to own it, in the moments when Bristol’s airport security identified and confiscated it.
In truth, it was a civil and almost pleasant interaction, as a female agent (surname Ilyas, if any journalists want to verify this account) checked whether she could return it to me. With only hand luggage, I would have to surrender the item. I could, she said, collect it on my return. I needed to point out that this was me returning, flying home to Glasgow after a weekend away. They could retain and post it to me, she advised, and in a decision I now regret I declined. They wanted to charge me shipping and a handling fee of six pounds, and I hastily reasoned that it would cost almost as much to just buy a replacement.
It is a shame that Glasgow’s security staff were not as vigilant. If they had clocked the offending object, I would have left it in their possession until my return. At a push, the person who dropped me off at the airport could have come back and taken it away for safekeeping. Glasgow Airport, however, home of a famously-thwarted terrorist attack almost exactly eight years ago, also allowed me to board my flight without once checking my passport.
Permit me to repeat that. At Glasgow Airport, on Friday 3rd July 2015, I was able to effortlessly board my flight without having my identification checked and while – it transpires – carrying a restricted item.
How did I manage it? By checking in online, with no hold luggage to deposit at the desk. I took my hand luggage straight to security and merely scanned my boarding pass to gain access. At the departure gate, an airline representative again scanned my boarding pass, but without asking for or looking at my passport. On the plane, I was able to just walk in and take my seat.
I am certain that interested parties with the relevant clearance will be able to confirm this by studying the CCTV footage which must surely exist.
It says very little about the “security” measures implemented in airports, suggesting they are for show – and rely on sheer luck – as much as they depend upon intelligence and scrutiny. That keyring has flown on my person three times from Glasgow, once from Berlin, and once from Bristol. It was noticed ahead of the sixth flight it was bound for.
My carrying it on all occasions was purely an oversight, with no criminal intent. The realisation, combined with this complete failure to verify my identity – on the parts of both airport and airline – does not exactly instil confidence.
I can accept that a partly-concealed corkscrew will go unnoticed for a while. With the advancement of technology and the increases in legislation and prohibition, it is important that airports do not forget the basic age-old check of looking at passports. It should not be possible to board a plane using only a home-printed piece of paper.
Virgin Trains cancelled my travel to Preston, UK, and that complaint can be read here. The following refers to that letter, their response, and the cancellation of a second train four days later.
Dear Virgin Trains, you are the Rolling Stones of cross-country commutes. I can’t get no satisfaction.
While I appreciate that, for a company of your stature, it is easier to throw money at problems rather than adequately address them, I had hoped for a better response. In addition to the cheque which you sent, reimbursing the first of my problem trips with you this past week, I had – perhaps naively – hoped you might address at least one of the many issues highlighted.
Your response, full of irrelevant standard paragraphs, assures me that you will be working hard on “improving the environment on board” two types of train “during 2014.” With two weeks of 2014 left, these proposed changes should have been enacted by now, unless you are planning a rush job – and it does not matter how comfortable your trains are if you cancel them and replace them with buses, as per the nature of my complaint.
As previously documented, in the six-page essay which formed the basis of complaint number VT-111214-xxxx, I had a train cancelled on Wednesday 10th December. A replacement bus eventually delivered me from Glasgow Central to Preston, and it was borderline unbearable. On Sunday 14th December, you then also cancelled my train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston. So much for your stated hope that “the work [you] are doing this year is reflected in [my] experience next time [I] travel.”
I have followed the band Combichrist religiously, pun fully intended, since 2005. Beginning as venue crew working for the local promoter and helping them load in their gear, I was instantly a fan of their music and of their live show, and have befriended them in the years since. I find myself in the rare and privileged position where my favourite band are as happy to see me as I am to see them.
They tour the UK annually and, since they changed promoter, I now make the effort to catch them a few times around the country during the one week in fifty-two that they are here. This is the sole purpose of my journeys to Preston and London recently, hence my annoyance when you punished my loyalty by hindering my travel arrangements.
With the poor experience of Wednesday behind me, my faith in your company was partially restored when – on the return leg the following day – your ticket office staff in Preston allowed me to travel on an earlier train home than booked, at no extra cost. In fairness, I was just happy to be able to take a train and not another excruciating replacement coach.
I then saw the band in Glasgow on Friday, with plans to see them in London on Sunday. This latter trip involved travelling with Scotrail, Trans Pennine Express, and Virgin Trains. Ahead of departure, I once again checked for any possible disruptions. It was absolutely imperative that I made it to London in a timely fashion.
On the Saturday evening, I had received a message from one of the band’s road crew (and drummer for their support act) saying he had mislaid his jacket in Glasgow and – with it – his passport. For an internationally-touring band on a strict schedule, this mattered. Could I, he wondered, help try and locate it?
Faced with the daunting prospect of tracking down a single black jacket from a gig that hosted four-hundred people wearing them, I offered suggestions and made enquiries. If the passport could be located and placed in my possession before mid-morning on Sunday, I would be able to carry it with me and return it in person.
It was a possibility, if the jacket had been lost or left in Glasgow. However, if it had been mistakenly taken home to Edinburgh or Aberdeen, then the band were looking at the prospect of either abandoning a core member of their touring party, or paying a hefty sum of cash to alter long-standing plans and amend bookings while waiting on an expedited courier to deliver it.
Against the odds, an appeal on their Facebook page resulted in its retrieval from behind the drum riser, where it had been safely hidden so well that it failed to turn up during two previous venue searches. Arrangements were hastily made, and I collected the jacket and its contents prior to leaving my hometown on Sunday. Together, we travelled to Manchester and alighted in readiness for catching the connecting train.
As I walked into the main concourse of Piccadilly, with forty-eight minutes to kill, I glanced at the departures board and saw that it did not yet list my onward journey. Looking around, I quickly spotted half a dozen of your red-coated staff dotted about and considered approaching them, to enquire if there had been any service disruption since I was last able to check. I quickly dismissed the idea as folly – sure, you had cancelled on me on Wednesday, but today there was not even a weather warning. It would be ludicrous to presume you could not do your job – so I thought.
I stepped out of the station momentarily, time being at my disposal, then made my way towards two Virgin trains sitting idle. I knew neither was mine, and yet I felt compelled to double-check. Imagine my dismay when, reading the information board, I learned that you had cancelled the 1515. Unlike last time, cancelling my travel was not just an inconvenience resulting in me possibly missing the gig. This time, the immediate continuation of the tour rested on this passport getting back to its owner.
By some stroke of luck, one of these two trains was bound for Euston. I decided I was going to board it, sick of the hassle you had so far caused me. Storming towards the station inspectors, with no intention of them stopping me, I was ready to tell them I was taking this earlier train. Your staff pre-empted me, and said I could get on.
Fighting through packed carriages, and crossing through the shop, I eventually found an empty and available seat. Three minutes later, we started moving. While joyful at the comparative ease with which I had managed to continue on my way, I remained furious that this had happened a second time.
With no idea when my new mode of travel was due to arrive, and aware that my tickets were booked for a specific train and thus not valid on this one, I opted to seek out the manager for clarification. The easiest way, I figured, would be via the shop. Sure enough, the chap serving there was able to provide our estimated arrival time. Then he confused me.
My ticket was valid, but my reservation was not. This, he assured me, would not pose a problem. If something is not valid, then surely that becomes a problem? All I knew was, I had two ticket-shaped pieces of paper, and one of them was invalid. Having failed to obtain the manager as requested, in the incorrect belief he had helped me, the presence of a sandwich-buying customer at the till-point cut short our conversation. I gave up, found the seat I had left, and tweeted to ask if you were taking the piss or just enjoyed my previous complaint letter so much that you want another one. In retrospect, you cannot have enjoyed it very much, or you would have replied to it directly and not in vague genericisms.
Reasoning that I should not be on this train, it occurred that I should definitely not be in First Class – so I went to sit there instead, seeking what little comfort I could from your appalling service. There, at least, I had a table and a socket where I could charge my phone. In truth, I fail to see the attraction – I had passed through emptier, quieter, and child-free, carriages to get there. The Wi-Fi might be free, but it is not up to much.
I had not been in First Class very long, before a trolley was wheeled through and free stuff handed out. I politely declined, reckoning that way you cannot accuse me of anything. In hindsight, I could have accepted a box of free shit – crisps or chocolate or whatever you put in it – and then, in this letter, pretended not to. The reality is I did not take anything, and it is probably this characteristic integrity and honesty which contributes to me being trusted to return American passports to their rightful owners, rather than clandestinely sell them to willing Russians.
Without warning, the ticket inspector appeared in the carriage ahead of me. I took a drink of water (which I bought prior to my journey, though I suspect I could have had some free while masquerading as a genuine First Class customer), and formulated the case I would present when handing my tickets over.
“You should not be in this carriage,” he would say, in the scenario I mentally concocted.
“If you look closer, I should not even be on this train,” I would contend. “Since the rules don’t apply, I will sit here, with a socket and a table and some legroom.”
If met with resistance, I would say, “Listen,” and gesture for him to sit opposite me while I relayed the tale which forms this email and the one which preceded it. Showing him the notes I had jotted down, I would give him the option of being a hero or a bad guy in this letter. He would obviously elect to be a good guy, and let me stay here, right?
How disappointed I was to be, when he simply took my tickets, circled the date in biro without question, and handed them back to me.
The mother at the adjacent table then engaged him in an involved discussion about the benefits (or not) of having a particular type of discount railcard. Having taken the time to relay the various merits, he turned back to me.
“Here we go!”, I thought.
His face showed a flicker of recognition. “I’ve done you, haven’t I?”
And he disappeared down the carriage, behind me.
What a hollow victory that was, Virgin. I had prepared my strategy and planned for battle, only to have my rebellion not so much quashed as unnoticed.
– – – – –
Once in London, my nostrils immediately assailed by the stench of piss which seems to define that city, I made my way to the venue. I found the stage door with relative ease, having once performed there myself in my occasional capacity as a stand-up comedian.
I could tell you how I came to perform stand-up comedy as a means of introducing Aesthetic Perfection, Mortiis, and Combichrist, to a thousand Londoners – in front of the band’s L.A.-based manager – but, frankly, given you all but ignore the content of my letters, you do not deserve to know.
[You, the curious reader, can find out a bit more on this post, over on my comedy blog.]
Suffice to say that it remains a life highlight, and a continuing source of personal disbelief, that – as the screen rose and a crowd of die-hard fans screamed for their heroes – all they saw was me standing there, microphone in hand, saying, “Yes, I know you want to see Combichrist. But first, a joke…”
This time, knocking on the stage door, I breathed the magic words: “I have Ben’s passport.”
I was ushered straight up the stairs and into the green room, and do not think I have ever been hugged so much in my life as I was that day. The band would now be able to leave for their ferry and continue the tour as scheduled, your cancellation of my train a mere blip on the route to this happy ending. Having travelled from Scotland to London every year since they played a one-off December show there in 2005, I was glad that it finally served a practical purpose: my appreciation of a good live music show prevented a lot of unnecessary expense and red-tape.
The gig itself, I enjoyed. There are minor differences in the set-list every night, and variations in the band’s onstage antics (every one of them is a showman and performer as well as a consummate musician), and I might not travel as much if they spent their evenings trundling out a tired wade-through of familiar crowd-pleasers. No, this is a highly energetic band who never seem to have less fun onstage than the audience do watching and listening to them.
I partied with friends – also fans – and then with the band after the show, leaving them to make their way to the coast and mainland Europe as I wandered into the early-morning darkness in pursuit of my 5:30am train back to Glasgow. Would you have cancelled it too? As it stood, I had booked four trains and you had cancelled two of them. This was your chance to pull back from being seventy-five percent shit and retain the reputation of only being half shit.
Hurrah! My train was listed as running to schedule. As soon as I was able, I boarded and took my seat, and you began slow-cooking me.
Firstly, I do not understand how you can call it The Quiet Zone when you broadcast loud announcements non-stop. You were making more noise than any of the passengers, repeating every destination twice per station – once on arrival and once (a minute later) on departure. And, my God, there were a lot of stations to stop at. The one positive was the sweet, blessed relief as the doors opened and a gust of fresh air blew in with each new set of customers. Sitting in a festering sweat-pit is not my idea of the “comfortable trip” you “aim to ensure” in the copied-and-pasted opening of the letter you sent regarding my Preston journey. I was that hot and uncomfortable I began to consider whether it could be the onset of the menopause, which I had never before thought my gender could even experience.
Having baked torturously for several hours, we finally arrived in Glasgow – late. Of four services in six days, you cancelled two and delayed one. That is a pretty poor record.
Furthermore, having made this journey annually for some years, I now know to allow myself a few days recovery time to get over whatever cold I invariably catch while travelling with you. It would, to my mind, be far more honest if “Air-Conditioning” was relabelled as “Recycled Breath.”
This year, presumably on the back of you effectively running an incubator of germs from one end of the country to the other, I have been infected with the most Hellish chest cold, which has impacted on my asthma and made every breath a chore and every cough a Herculean effort. Picture Patrick McGoohan on his deathbed in “Braveheart”, multiplied by Nicole Kidman in “Moulin Rouge”, and you have an idea of this discomfort.
In conclusion, then, I expect you to reply in a relevant manner this time and without resorting to your stock responses. I still request reimbursement for seventy-five percent of the price of the ticket for the Preston show, since you caused me to miss most of the gig. In addition, I expect you to reimburse my travel costs from Manchester to London, and from London to Glasgow, plus make a goodwill payment on top to cover the stress of having two time-sensitive journeys cancelled at zero notice.
For ease, here is a breakdown, in figures:
Preston ticket: £13.13 (75% of the £17.50 face value)
Manc – London: £35.50
London – Glas: £30.50
Which is a total of £79.13
Accounting for the discomfort and distress caused throughout this week by your failure to run trains – the sole expected duty of Virgin Trains – and taking into consideration the inadequacy of your previous response, I will be happy to receive a cheque for £120 to write off the whole sorry matter.
I look forward to your (this time personalised) reply.
Here is their lacklustre response. My reply to it is here.
Above: Their brief and misspelled reply. Read my response to it and them here.
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.
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.
I am aware of, and largely unimpressed by, your inspired but transparent summertime marketing campaign. I am less interested in what forename is printed on the bottle label, and more in the bottle’s content. I only buy your product as an occasional sugary treat, without the intention of establishing an affinity with your packaging. Whichever name happens to be on it is irrelevant, and I have never wasted time selecting any bottle other than that which is closest or looks coldest. Personalised trash is still trash.
Today, by chance, I unpacked my shopping to discover that I had managed to pick up a bottle with, it looked like, my own name on it. Looked like, because closer inspection revealed that you had misspelt it in the most abhorrent fashion.
My name is Jordan. It has been Jordan for very nearly thirty-three years, and in that time I have never – never – met anybody older than me with this forename. I understand there are older Jordans in existence, only I have yet to personally encounter any of them. I could have resolved this, admittedly, but it seems a flimsy reason to attend a concert by the New Kids On The Block. Christ knows I would not be going for the music.
You can imagine, I am sure, that living with this name has had its ups and downs. Fortunately, I was at school when the basketball player Michael was cool, and happily accepted the nickname I acquired from the brand of footwear he promoted. Nearing the end of my state education, Katie Price turned up and ruined the name for every adolescent male Jordan left behind me in the playground.
My name has grown in popularity, transcending gender in the process, and there must now be Jordans who have reproduced and brought new Jordans into the world. So, in light of all this, what possessed you to print a label bearing the abomination “Jordon”?
Jordon is not a name, it is a misspelling; a source of constant irritation to me, as dyslexics and idiots throughout my life have insisted on unjustifiably changing the letters which form my name. Usually, this is a small detail – the substitution of the “A” for a second “O” – and a mistake made by recognised incompetents, such as the department of Glasgow City Council responsible for addressing my Council Tax bills.
I could retaliate in kind, as I did in opening this letter, but referring to you as Coco-Colo does not work as well when you consider that you are more commonly known by the shortened moniker, “Coke.” Is there some other way to resolve this issue? The “vegetable extracts” are supposed to enhance the beverage, not type (nor mistype) the list of people to whom you wish to sell your product.
I do not expect you to recall vast quantities of poorly-labelled soft drink, but perhaps you could amend the spelling for the next print run. Having accepted that the council will never manage to spell my name correctly, I refuse to believe that a company of your size cannot manage to correct this error.
Contrary to my stated disinterest, I will now keep a look-out for fizzy juice labelled “Jordan”, in the hope that today’s bottle just came from a bad batch and that somebody in the factory was simply not wearing their glasses that day. I concede that it might be quite a nice thing to possess, and am beginning to understand the appeal. I stand by my initial assertion that this marketing campaign, as much as I despise all advertising and marketing, is inspired. I am usually resistant to such tactics.
I look forward to your response.
In a move presumably intended to embarrass Scotland on the world stage, “Team Scotland” have taken undue pride in unveiling athletes’ uniforms which will be worn during the forthcoming Commonwealth Games.
Dressed like extras from the set of Brigadoon, had that mythical village been inhabited entirely by the colour-blind, the cruel and unusual punishment of wearing the new outfits was forced onto a handful of the competitors.
“My brief from Team Scotland was to come up with a parade uniform that was high on impact and made a real statement, but also had a contemporary feel,” the designer said, her contemporaries evidently being a tin of shortbread and an outdated notion of a country under Stuart rule. Scotland in 2014 is a progressive, forward-looking nation, on the verge of voting on whether to reclaim its independence and be free from Westminster’s parliament.
This monstrous creation looks like it was accepted by a committee, all of them too polite to reveal their true feelings until – suddenly – they found they had agreed to its production. With luck, they kept the receipt and can return it for a refund.
Inspiration must surely have come on a summer’s day, when the designer vomited into the clear sky and thought, “That’ll work.”
Grimaces, bemusement, and fixed smiles were the order of the day, as illustrated by the photographs above. One can only suppose it is the designer who has come dressed as the Mad Hatter from Alice In Wonderland, since she is the only person who looks genuinely happy to be there. A couple of nurses lead the way, followed by a three-man “stag do” attended by barely-acquainted strangers.
The designer looks inordinately pleased with herself. While it was decent of her to take the blame, it is unfortunate that this public spectacle will be viewed by so many. If there is one positive to be found, it will come at the opening ceremony. With the arrival, on-screen, of several hundred athletes wearing this nonsense, it will be the first time in years that a commentator has had to utter those immortal words, “Please do not adjust your set.”
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.