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Dear Bank o Scotland outdated suffix outdated suffix,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.
Jordan R.A. Mills
I think my favourite voicemail was received, from a friend, in December 2006. The friend and I studied together, both of us graduating to careers in theatre, with work and life meaning our paths stopped crossing as often as they once did.
It had been a while since I had heard from her, and I emerged from my place of employment after the matinee performance of a pantomime to see that I had a message to listen to.
“Hi there,” she began in her cheerful and chatty way. “I hope you’re well, I’ve not seen you in ages. Anyway, I’m working at The Kings just now, and – you probably know this already – but Cafe India is on fire, and I know your flat is right next to it, so I just thought I would tell you. But yeah, speak to you soon.”
Cafe India was not just on fire, it burned so thoroughly that it was later demolished. Writing in 2014, the space now houses a supermarket on the ground floor and an entire block of flats above. It was originally a single-storey restaurant, next to a two-storey backpackers hostel, and then next to that was my tenement flat. I had the top floor, my living room being the gable end, and there were huge cracks in the interior walls. Cracks you could have painted Michaelangelo’s “Creation Of Adam” on, had he not chosen the Sistine Chapel as its location.
I was, therefore, a little concerned to hear that the dwelling that housed all of my possessions might be in danger of combusting. With the adjoining structures drastically weakened, I was not convinced that the tenement’s end wall would stay up. I raced home, circling the police cordon as the last of the smoke billowed from the ruin, and walking past the fire engines in attendance to the rear of the property. My flat was above a pub, and as I walked along the back of the building I saw the landlord. I had briefly worked for him, and went over to speak to him. I found out that the entire row had been evacuated, in case the flames spread, but that tenants were finally being granted access again.
I went upstairs, checked everything was in order, and then had to leave immediately in order to be back in time for the evening’s performance. It was not the most relaxing period I have spent between shows.
Full credit to my friend, however. They always say that “in the event of fire, remain calm.” I do not think she could have been any calmer, absolutely exemplifying that as she relayed the news to me via answer-machine. The panic and the relief both faded, but the message was memorable for its unhurried delivery.
I lived in that flat for three years. It was my first residence in Glasgow, and I moved out four months after the fire – having no desire to live next door to the building site it was destined to become. On the plus side, the structure of the walls proved sound, and the building still stands.
Above: Still taken from STV video footage. My annotations.
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.
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.
I realise that that may come across as a little insensitive, and yet it almost feels like that is how we are supposed to greet this day. There have been plenty of terrorist attacks in the past century, and a significant number of them within my own lifetime. We do not remember, or commemorate, the bombing of the Arndale Centre in Manchester; the Oklahoma and Lockerbie bombings do not have their dates prominently – almost proudly – etched into the public conscience. Without wishing to sound callous – I understand that a lot of families suffered the death or injury of loved ones, and huge numbers of rescuers are condemned to long-term respiratory afflictions – what makes this incident so special?
It is hard to conceive that any other nation on earth would “remember those lost” by offering one-day discounts and other promotional deals. That sounds a lot more like a cheap cash-in than any meaningful form of remembrance, and one golf-course owner faced a backlash after advertising nine holes of golf for $9.11. Here are some other examples.
I am not debating that “9/11” was a shocking and powerful event in recent history, please do not misunderstand me. I merely find it absurd that the date has been added to the collective conciousness, unlike the dates of so many atrocities which have occurred before or since. Do you know when the Mumbai bombings took place? Can you remember which year London had its terrorist atttacks (July, yes – but which year? And what of those conducted by the IRA?)
Every year, it feels like the images of that day are voyeuristically dragged out and replayed for us. The media shouts “Americans died!” at us in case we have forgotten. The loss of life on that scale and in that or a comparable manner is tragic, no question. Yet it feels like we are not being asked to remember that people died, rather that Americans did.
I do not feel the need to be bludgeoned over the head with this footage annually, lest it has slipped my mind. Other terrorism anniversaries are available. Many of them are more dignified, not heralded like some international celebration.
I do not have any answers. I write this blog to draw attention to my observations, specifically when what I see seems unusual and worthy of comment. All that I have written above was intended as preamble, before I reproduced a stand-up comedy routine I performed on the tenth anniversary. It no longer fits here, out of context, and if you want to read it you will find it on my comedy blog. It is gallows humour, because that is the only way I know to deal with life. To replicate it here would be to undermine my point.
My point being, perhaps we would be advised to remember all victims of terrorism, regardless of nationality. As I discovered within minutes of writing this entry, I am not the only one to suggest it.
I have mentioned previously that I once worked, in a temporary capacity, for the Inland Revenue (as it then was.) Regular readers know that all the stories I tell here are my own, observed by me and not apocryphal. Everything I document I can substantiate, with further background detail and facts as appropriate.
This is a break from the norm, a story told by a colleague who had the desk opposite mine. I cannot vouch for its authenticity, but he told it well and I have told it often since, without ever encountering it in any other form or from any other source. I am not sure how it will translate to the written word, but told with gusto it is very entertaining.
My workmate had previously been in the army, relating an incident that occurred when they were on manoeuvres, or out training in some capacity. His team were hidden in the undergrowth on the side of a hill, above a road that cut across the landscape but which gave way to a valley on the other side. My friend had control of the unit’s radio, being taken aback when suddenly, from nowhere, a landrover came roaring up the road. It took off when it hit the crest, bouncing down and continuing on its way at some speed.
Next thing, another landrover comes after it, flying up the road but missing it when it lands. The landrover tumbles down the hillside, while my friend looks to his group for advice. If this were war, the enemy vehicle would not trouble them. However, being an exercise, he is unsure whether to call it in or not – technically these are his comrades, and they may need help. He reaches for the dial. Suddenly, from behind him, high up on the hill, he hears his commanding officer bellow “don’t touch that radio!”
He looks round, and sees his sergeant (or whatever rank he may be) tearing down the hillside. He is red in the face, leaping over rocks and tearing through heather, vaulting over prostrate soldiers and small shrubs. Shocked into inaction, my friend again hears the same shouted command:
“Don’t touch that fucking radio!”
My friend is at a loss, already unaware of the correct course of action and now unsure of the intentions of his superior. His superior is still charging over the terrain, making the final leap that lands him in the ditch next to my friend. Without a word, he grabs the radio and immediately screams into it “there’s a rover rolled-over, over.”
Turning to my friend, he smiles and says “I’ve waited fucking years to say that!”
I applied for my provisional driving license as I turned seventeen, receiving it once I reached the legal age to take lessons.
I was not champing at the bit to learn, counting down the days as some of my peers did. It was just something that was done – celebrate the milestone birthday, obtain license, find an instructor, book test, be allowed on the roads. My older cousins and my friends and schoolmates had been or were all in the throes of going through the same process. I did not really know what I was doing when I was seventeen, generally speaking, and being rather laid-back I simply followed the path that was prescribed for me. That is, stay in school until sixth year, sit my exams, spend three or four years at university, and then emerge with a degree and a sense of the career that would fill my twenties and beyond.
It did not happen like that. I went to Strathclyde University, started and dropped out of two very different degrees, and left to work in a shop for a while, before finally graduating from an unaffiliated institution seven years later. I remember that at the Open Days, when all the departments set out stalls to sell their courses, I completely flummoxed several of my prospective tutors – with no idea which path I wanted to follow, they asked what subjects I was studying. I was in the process of gaining my Higher Drama and my Certificate Of Sixth Year Studies in Maths – two unrelated subjects that failed to suggest any obvious route into further education.
Above: Bob Newhart’s classic take on Driving Instruction.
In the end, I did my degree in the technical side of theatre, specialising in scenic carpentry. It maintained my interest in drama, and utilised my maths skills too. Ultimately, it neglected to offer the steadiest of employment opportunities, as I discovered, but it did at least sustain my interest.
Anyway, with regard to my provisional driving license, I booked lessons and trained to the required standard to pass my test. My instructor found out that I played the guitar (in truth, I owned a guitar. To say that I played it is stretching the extent of my abilities), and we connected over that. His advice was always that I should treat my guitar like I would treat a woman, or maybe it was the other way round – I forget now. That was the upshot, though, and I shall rise above the cheap and crude hack jokes that arise from guitars having G-strings, and from what you do with your digits to elicit a pleasant sound.
I never sat my theory test, which prevented me from taking the practical, even though I was repeatedly told that I would sail through it, so to speak. I cannot now fathom why I did not put in the final bit of effort to secure my right to sit behind the wheel, and regret this shortcoming. I tried to get back into it several times in the intervening years, always being met by some obstacle or other – funding being the main one. it is not a cheap thing to acquire.
Above: Rikki Fulton and Tony Roper, Scottish comedy legends.
Part of me relates it to the time that, turning into a packed residential street with poor visibility, my instructor leapt on the brake to prevent me from driving into the back of an ambulance. The sight of an old woman lying on the road outside her church, in a compact area crammed with parked cars and now hosting a couple of police cars and the aforementioned ambulance, would stay with the most seasoned of drivers, far less an intermediate. He took care of all the footwork while directing me to do some exceptionally tight steering. I managed to negotiate around the parked cars; the emergency vehicles; the attendant paramedics and officers; the bystanders and fellow emerging churchgoers; and the oncoming traffic – but the image and the experience stayed with me.
Another part of me is reluctant to learn now, even if the funds were available, believing that it is just tempting fate. I have visions of crashing and burning within days of getting my license, leading to painful scenes at my funeral as people remark on the irony – “he waited fifteen years to get his license, got into a car and died the next day.” It would be a good story, one that people would enjoy telling thanks to the morbidity and the twist, but there are other stories that I would prefer to be part of instead. Given the choice.
This year I will be thirty-two, and I have held my provisional license for fifteen years. It has recently occurred to me that, In two years time, my provisional driving license will be old enough to apply for its own provisional driving license.
Except where necessary, I try to avoid name-dropping while writing these blogs.
The many dubious claims to fame are deliberately chosen for being precisely that – dubious. Some of them are extremely tenuous, and the majority could have happened to anybody were the circumstances right. As far as possible, I try to avoid mentioning things that have occurred while I have been working in a professional capacity. An oft-condemned trait in the theatre industry is the tendency for everyday stage crew members to brag online about having “worked with” some star name. Working alongside, in the vicinity of, or for, are not the same as working “with” someone. Especially not if it is a touring show which only played in your venue for one night.
That said, this entry is about a nonsensical piece of writing that I wish to give a wider audience, and so I feel able to freely name the actor involved. He could have remained anonymous, but as I am quoting his joke in full it is courteous to credit the source.
Many Glaswegians will be familiar with Dean Park, either from his regular radio shows or from his comic turns on stage, most recently in pantomime. I worked on three pantomimes that he was in, and each year the cast and crew all contributed to a “Secret Santa” as we were working together over the Christmas period. Everybody draws one name from a hat, and buys that person a gift – thus, in a company of thirty people, everyone buys and receives one gift. My recipient was to be Dean.
He was playing the dame, welcoming the audience with a string of jokes appropriate to the range of ages who typically attend such shows. He told them how he was so poor growing up that one year all he got for Christmas was a dooroo-dooroo. He explained that a dooroo-dooroo is when you take an empty toilet-roll tube, put one end to your lips, and proclaim through it “dooroo dooroo!”
My gift to him, then, was in part a homemade dooroo-dooroo. I decorated a toilet-roll tube with several colours of glitter paint, making the piece of cheap cardboard look undeservingly ornate, and I fabricated a history of the instrument which I printed and enclosed. Having recently found it again on my computer, I decided to reproduce it here:
The History Of The Dooroo-Dooroo
The Dooroo Dooroo, the inside of a lavvy roll tube which one to puts to ones lips and proclaims “dooroo dooroo”, seems to have first come to prominence in late Victorian Britain. It was at this time, in the late 1800s, that parlour games first became popular as evening entertainment. Alongside parlour magic, séances, ‘Blind Man’s Bluff’ and ‘Hide the Sausage’, it became common for the landed gentry to spend hours listening to popular tunes of the day reinterpreted through this cheap and cheerful instrument. One of the most noted professional Dooroodoorooers was one Roger Twatt, who transformed himself –through his talent – from London street urchin to Prime Minister in 1898.
Queen Victoria herself was a closet Dooroodoorooer, and loved nothing more than to stand by her beloved Prince Albert’s grave once a year playing solemn songs through a gold-plated Dooroo Dooroo (this was at one time part of the treasured Crown Jewels, kept in the Tower of London, but was eventually given to India as reparations after the British gave up their colonisation of that country).
The Dooroo Dooroo has gone from strength to strength over the years. It was used throughout both world wars to keep morale up and in the absence of a bugle it could be used for Reveille. Even during the Depression of the Thirties many families made use of hand-me-down Dooroo Dooroos to keep their spirits up. In the Fifties, it gave way to the electric guitar as the basis for popular music (having been used exclusively by The Count Basie Orchestra and The Glenn Miller Band until then). Its popularity was reinstated in the Sixties, however, and it continues to feature heavily in music to this day.
Over the years the Dooroo Dooroo has proved itself a versatile instrument. It has spanned musical genres, appearing in various popular songs, in the lyrics to further songs, and even had songs written about it. From Cab Calloway’s Minnie the Moocher (“hey de hey de hey de hey, ho de ho de ho de ho, dooroo dooroo” – the final line was edited from the version that appears in The Blues Brothers), to The Beatles Love Me Dooroo Dooroo. Its highest-profile appearance must surely be in the interminable Bryan Adams hit, from Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, “Everything I Do (I Dooroo Dooroo).”
Sinatra gave it credence when, in My Way, he sang “I did what I had to Dooroo Dooroo”, and even punk act Splodgenessabounds name-checked it in their classic anthem Two Pints Of Lager (And A Dooroo Dooroo Please).
As the new owner of this limited-edition Dooroo Dooroo, we hope it gives you many hours of pleasure and that you too can help carry on the tradition of this wonderful and under-rated instrument.
I used to post regularly on an internet forum for industry students and professionals. In truth, I posted too regularly, and without putting sufficient thought into many of my musings. It is important to know your audience – not on a personal level, but in order to gauge what is or is not appropriate. I was often inappropriate.
I did not deliberately set out to shock or offend, but I have a strange sense of humour and it does not always come over well in person, far less online. I have some unusual and off-kilter ideas, which I like to think is a keen sense of the absurd, but that does not always translate well to everyday people. It appears to be very good, in particular, for alienating me from vast swathes of middle- and southern-English people and from readers of the Daily Mail. After a year or so of frequent posting and resultant raised eyebrows, one of the more tolerant forum moderators politely but firmly suggested that I should perhaps find an alternative outlet.
I began channelling my creativity into writing less publicly, if not less provocatively, managing to complete a few drafts of a screenplay and one draft of an unpublished novel. I also took up stand-up comedy as a way of putting my skewed view and less-conventional thoughts across, with wit. I have barely posted on that forum since, and am grateful to (and respect) the mod who advised me to quit while I was behind. There were a few bones of contention, it seems, but one remains foremost in my mind – posted after I read two unrelated news stories and concocted an unorthodox solution.
Homosexual men are not allowed to donate blood, or were not (they can as of November 2011, provided they have not had anal or oral sex in the preceding twelve months.) There may be a shortage, certainly the campaigns never cease, and there is hypocrisy inherent in this legislation. Firstly, all donors are screened and all donations fully tested, making it ridiculous to exclude much-needed volunteers on the grounds of sexual preference. Secondly, there are plenty of promiscuous heterosexual people, some of whom statistically do not take sufficient precautions against contracting diseases. You can be straight and sleep with a dozen partners a week, yet you can still opt to give blood while a long-term monogamous gay couple are barred outright. This makes no sense.
At the same time, the religious beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses prohibit them from accepting blood transfusions. There have been a couple of high-profile news stories reporting on deaths that have come about from this backward notion. If someone you love is dying, and they could be saved by a relatively simple procedure that has been successfully carried out many thousands, if not millions, of times before, then I cannot fathom the mentality that would instead let them die.
I saw a chance to link these issues. You could immediately start taking blood donations from homosexual people, and then only offer it exclusively to Jehovah’s Witnesses – who would refuse it.
In this way, the gay community would be able to volunteer without prejudice, the blood banks would be able to maintain their outdated practices, and the Jehovah’s would be able to continue dying unnecessarily like they think their god wants.
In hindsight, I am inclined to agree that this is a bit of an extreme argument to make unsolicited on an unrelated forum. The proposed changes are hardly cost effective for a start. My main argument is that blood is blood, and since it is thoroughly checked then the source should not matter (well, provided it is voluntarily given.)
Since I first posted this evidently unpopular suggestion, the rules changed and gay men who have been celibate or abstained from sex for a year can now willingly contribute – which is a small advancement, at least. It is possible that the religious doctrine is changing too.
I have a friend who studied the history of art, in her American home state.
While chatting online, she mentioned that she was having issues with an assignment, and I offered to help her with it. Given that I have never studied the subject in any detail, which she knew, the chances of me being able to help her – even before considering the moral and ethical questions of plagiarism and passing-off – were slim. Nevertheless, she copied and pasted the question and sent it to me.
I cannot claim to understand what is being asked, although I have also never considered it in the correct context. Instead, I wrote a response that roughly addresses all of the points raised, without actually relating it either to art or to history. For all that it is not a serious piece of writing, I do rather like it for the strange theories it posits. I say “it posits” rather than “I posit” as I do not recall putting much thought into it. I sat and just wrote, producing a stream-of-conscious response that has a kind of logic to it, despite being complete nonsense.
“Personal interaction with objects, images and spaces can be so powerful as to change the way one thinks about particular issues or topics. For your intended area of study (art history), describe an experience where instruction in that area or your personal interaction with an object, image or space affected this type of change in your thinking. What did you do to act upon your new thinking and what have you done to prepare yourself for further study in this area?”
My personal interaction with objects, images and space has taken on many guises since long before I first read this enthralling question. Some of these interactions have been more powerful than others – the time I sneezed up a lung in a site-specific work called “Roomful of Dust”, versus the time I blinked whilst haphazardly gazing at “Statue with Traffic Cone Hat” for example.
My problem is not with how I perceive and react to space, but how space interacts and copes with me. Now, presuming that there is a finite amount of space within our atmosphere, we are all of us confined within the limits of the earth and its surrounding stratosphere. The human race is expanding at a rate hitherto unprecedented, and as every new person is born, a little of the existing space is pushed outwards. So, initially, when history began, the sky was quite literally just above people’s heads. With time, as the world population has expanded, the sky has expanded continuously upward and outward until it reached its present upper limit. This was in the mid-eighties.
When the limit was reached, every new person, growing (as is a person’s wont), caused untold pressure to build up on the existing space until, when the pressure grew too much, it burst a hole in the Ozone and the surplus space escaped. So you see, the population of the world continues to grow and we are now pushing out all the remaining space. One day, possibly within our lifetimes (unless by some miracle – possibly cellphone radiation) we either, as humans, stop fornicating wantonly or become entirely impotent. Certainly, for as long as the population increases, the surer we will eventually run out of space and perish as a species.
When I first saw space, I realised how very little of it there can be in one place (I selfishly keep some in a box in my attic for emergencies.) Some people look at this space and decide to have it for themselves – we started small by finding space in Australia and America for our convicts. Now these countries have grown and populated, they need space for themselves and, short of concreting over the ocean, the moon is probably our next best option. Well, that or People Control. Some sort of enforced euthanasia may be required.
I am keeping my personal space box at a secret location, underground (a further irony – by digging space for my box of space, I have incrementally reduced further the amount of space between the ground and the sky), as I believe that in the very near future I will be able to sell it on Ebay for a huge amount. Whether I have any use for the money at the point when space becomes so valuable remains to be seen, by the three or so people left alive to see it. Looting space may be the next big craze – we can only watch television for so long before our brains melt into our socks and cats lick at the pureed remnants of wasted genius. That will be fun to watch, so the process of writing this piece has affected my thinking – I’d never thought of that before. Yes, when people become one with their sofas and gradually dissolve into a grey gloop in front of banal ‘celebrity’ based shows, that will have a profound effect on me. Though, granted, not as profound effect as it will have on those who take the time to ooze slowly back to the primeval sludge from which we all once grew.
I hope you appreciate the space this piece has taken out of the remaining years of my life, and the space it has taken up on my hard drive, as well as the space in my brain that I have allocated to formulating this discourse. Now it’s taking up space in my drinking time, so go, read, learn, digest, enjoy, and when you’ve done all that – go watch some TV (this final suggestion is my preparation for further study – sooner you watch, the sooner you melt)
I used to work for the catalogue firm Index, one of only two companies encapsulating pictures of their products in glossy books rather than following the more conventional method of putting items on display.
Index ceased trading in the mid-2000s, shortly after I stopped working for them, though I imagine it was unrelated. It was obvious that the company was in trouble, inasmuch as we noticed that less and less staff were being hired to replace those who left. To this day, when asked if I cope well under pressure, I recall that Boxing Sunday when I single-handedly manned the customer service desk while also broadly overseeing the collection desk, jewellery counter, and till points. The queue for returns was so long that its end rarely made it within the confines of the shop, people lined up all the way to the front door and spilling into the shopping mall beyond.
At the time, I hated the job – or, more specifically, most of the customers – but in hindsight I enjoyed the responsibility I was afforded. The staff were good fun too, and there was a healthy cameraderie between us. Like any working environment, there were issues and grievances, but on the whole we got on, worked well together, shared a very bawdy sense of humour, and socialised frequently. We were young and carefree, twenty-somethings who did not take the work entirely seriously. At least three of us were regularly pulled up for poor time-keeping, the reason that I eventually quit, and one of my friends lost her job due to repeated lateness. She went in crying and pleading to be given another chance, was given that chance, and then – come her next shift – decided she had had enough, and stayed home. In retrospect, it is not exactly commendable behaviour, although probably on a par with the majority of attitudes at that age.
A year after I left, my old manager phoned me about a rather more serious matter. One of the women had made allegations against the most charismatic of the stockroom staff, accusing him of sexual harrassment. It was laughable, but policy dictated that it was treated with due gravity. I did not give much truck to the claims, as the guy in question was a friend who had a steady girlfriend and who – although his humour could be coarse and perverse – did not stand out any more than anyone else because of this. His boss, for one, was a dirty old man in the making, as I often joked with them both.
The other reason that it was laughable is that the complainant herself often instigated as many filthy comments as she was now calling inappropriate. She was short, bespectacled, and somewhere in her forties – it was hard to be sure, as she had the haggard face of a lifelong smoker, and the cough to go with it. There is little attractive about somebody who laughs in a manner that suggests they may be about to hack up a lung. As I understood it, her action had proved divisive in the little shop of thirty staff. The managers had to try and remain diplomatically neutral, but I got the impression that of those thirty staff twenty-nine thought she was “at it.”
In defence of my friend, I thought back to an incident some time previously, at one of the periodic staff nights out. This woman had produced, unwarranted, a bag of assorted genital-themed accessories, the most memorable of them being penis straws and earrings similarly shaped like the male member. She was in no way the chaste, put-upon innocent that she was now claiming to be. In truth, the thought of her naked would not so much turn you on as turn your stomach. In a building full of twenty-year-olds, she was not getting much of a look in, and this accusation looked like a bid to effortlessly secure a sizeable payout. I heard no more about the case, and am uncertain as to how it ended.
The conversation at that night out, at a table littered with shaped foil confetti and the remnants of explicit straws, was of a suitably risque nature. Drink flowed, and one of our supervisors was introduced to the term “sixty-nine.” This mutual sex act, named for the position of the bodies in relation to the figure 69, had hitherto bypassed our good Catholic boss.
You know that way, when you hear something for the first time, have a few drinks, and then later try to refer to your new knowledge but with only a vague recollection as to what it was? Thus we were all treated to the inebriated question “what is it again, forty-seven?”
It is hard to know what a 47 would look like, and it does not lend itself to seeming particularly comfortable. If any keen experimenters want to figure it out and let me know, I will be happy to share your findings.
At least she knew better than to call it a ninety-nine. There has been no point in anybody’s life, lying naked in bed with a partner, when one of them has interrupted coitus to say “honey, you know what I want to try right now? An ice-cream cone with a flake in it.”
With a remark like that, you would be guaranteed to make the bedroom cold enough to prevent your ice-cream from melting.
I logged in to my Twitter account the other day, prior to setting up a dedicated account for this blog in order to try and reach a wider readership. So far, the blog page is being followed by ten people, and is not yet what you might call a roaring success. If you are on Twitter, you can help me change that if you are so inclined. Please be inclined.
I always have a quick look at my Timeline, to see what people I follow are posting, before switching to the “Interactions” page so as to avoid being swamped by a million new-tweet notifications. This has changed now that I have begun using Tweetdeck to manage my personal account, this blog’s account, and the account for my “Adventures In The World Of Stand-Up Comedy” blog. However, that was my routine on the day in question.
The top of my Timeline was filled with retweets from comedian Sarah Millican, and from them it was fairly evident that she had posted about swallowing her chewing gum. Most of the “funny” answers had already been given and, as I have an aversion to being in any way “hack” with my jokes, I was prepared to skip straight to the page telling me how little I had been socially interacted with since last signing in. That was when I noticed the tweet I was drawn to reply to.
Neil “Doctor” Fox was a fixture of my childhood, his nationally-syndicated weekend chart show playing in the car on our way to or from various shopping malls, supermarkets, and trips to see one or other of my grandparents. More than anything, I remember the constant jingle that cut the word “Fox” onto a truncated sample of Robert Palmer singing “Doctor, Doctor,” from his song about having a “Bad Case Of Loving You.”
I tried to find a clip of that particular jingle, with no luck, but I did find this track by Kunt And The Gang. They appear to be offering sexual favours in return for a high chart position.
I have loved Chris Morris ever since I first stumbled upon an episode of The Day Today on BBC 2 one night, and mistook it for a factual programme for about thirty seconds. Its subversive genius soon became apparent, and it has subsequently made televised news impossible to watch. I was fortunate enough to then see the original broadcasts of his equally brilliant Brass Eye and the darkly twisted sketch show Jam. I have watched all of them innumerable times since, able to quote large amounts of all of them and awed by the beauty of his turns of phrase. “Proof if proof be need be”; “Quadrospazzed on a Life-Glug” ; “Cake is a made-up drug … A big, yellow death-bullet in the head of some poor user, or ‘custard gannet,’ as the dealers call them.”
“When dancing, lost in techno trance, arms flailing, gawky Bez. Then find you snagged on frowns, and slowly dawns… you’re jazzing to the bleak tone of a life support machine, that marks the steady fading of your day-old baby daughter. And when midnight sirens lead to blue-flash road-mash; stretchers, covered heads, and slippy red macadam, and find you creeping ‘neath the blankets, to snuggle close a mangle bird, hoping soon you too will be freezer-drawered. Then welcome… mmm… ooh, chemotherapy wig, welcome. In Jam. Jam. Jam. Jam. Jam. Jaaaaam.” – Intro to Episode 1
Brass Eye’s most infamous episode was the one-off special, Paedogeddon. From Wikipedia:
“To illustrate the media’s knee-jerk reaction to the subject, various celebrities were duped into presenting fatuous and often ridiculous pieces to camera in the name of a campaign against paedophiles. Gary Lineker and Phil Collins endorsed a spoof charity, Nonce Sense, (pronounced “nonsense”—”nonce” being British slang for people convicted or suspected of molestation or sexual crimes), Collins saying, “I’m talking Nonce Sense!” Tomorrow’s World presenter Philippa Forrester and ITN reporter Nicholas Owen were shown explaining the details of HOECS (pronounced “hoax”) computer games, which on-line paedophiles were using to abuse children via the internet. Capital Radio DJ Neil “Doctor” Fox told viewers that “paedophiles have more genes in common with crabs than they do with you and me”, adding “Now that is scientific fact — there’s no real evidence for it — but it is scientific fact”.”
That last quote, from “Doctor” Fox, is one of many that I can easily recite verbatim. Here he was on Twitter, espousing an obviously nonsensical “fact” in reply to Sarah Millican’s tweet, and I replied without a second’s hesitation – quoting his own assertion about facts and evidence.
I did not expect a reply – I figured it would be an episode of his life that he would be embarrassed to be reminded of, since various celebrity interviewees later denounced the show while publicly expressing their anger at being duped. I did not anticipate a reply from Sarah Millican either, as she has previously ignored me. Kind of. We have a mutual friend, a professional comedian who once publicly posted the link to my film “Jerry Generic” – which is a short satire of stand-up and of hack jokes and topics. Ms. Millican “replied” to it, but only insofar as to send an unrelated tweet to the friend off the back of it. I saw it as I was named in the original tweet, but the reply was not directed at, and did not concern, me. I presumed that it was easier to tack a new message onto that one rather than hit the “compose” button, and took that communication to be an act of convenience rather than a personal slight.
It came as some surprise, then, to find a reply from Foxy a few days later. He had taken my tweet in his stride, seeming to praise me for making the reference, and candidly referring to the occasional repercussions of his appearance on that show. I accepted that at face value and decided not to reply further – instead resorting to just retweeting it for others to read.
My aversion to karaoke as a form of entertainment is such that, if I am in a pub and it becomes apparent that there will be karaoke, I leave. I am willing to accept most types of music as background noise to whatever conversation I may be having, but I refuse to accept the dominance that is afforded a procession of tuneless drunks.
There are a handful of exceptions – I’ve tolerated it at a few places-of-works’ nights out, a stag night, and – well, that’s it to the best of my memory. As a general rule, if there is no occasion and I am just out for a drink, I’ll go elsewhere.
I have been coerced into participating only twice in my life. This is, in part, due to my complete and very noticeable inability to sing. The other factors involved were alcohol (lots of it) and peer pressure.
The first occasion was in “My Father’s Moustache”, a pub in East Kilbride, where I then worked. I worked for the catalogue shop Index, and our entire staff (numbering about twenty or thirty) were in the pub for some reason or other, besides the obvious. The drinks were flowing freely, and it was the night that Darius was kicked off Pop Idol. I remember this clearly, because at the time I was being told on a regular basis that I looked like him.
As a succession of regulars crooned their ways through all the usual hits – Mustang Sally, Brown-Eyed Girl, Wonderwall, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), New York New York – our party got progressively drunker. We were loud, rowdy, good-humoured, and having great fun. Somehow, I got roped into going up.
My song of choice was “My Way” as sung by Sid Vicious. This was probably towards the end of the period I spent listening to Punk, and I recall that I was wearing my Slayer tour shirt that evening. My name was called, along with the observation “As a special treat, here comes Darius, straight off Pop Idol,” and I ventured forth amidst gentle laughter, to take the mic.
The punters would look to the screen as each singer stepped up, to see what song they would be assailed with, and so up came “My Way.” People went back to their conversations, absolutely not expecting the off-key and piss-taking intro to that version of Sinatra’s classic. You know that scene in the western film, when the guy walks into the bar and the music stops and the place falls silent? I achieved that. My “singing” of that verse, in that vocal manner, briefly shut up an entire pub.
As the song kicked in, and I sneered my way through the second verse as Vicious had done, I was joined on the stage area by a stranger who – judging from his age and enthusiasm – was part of the original musical and social movement that produced it. He grabbed a second mic from its stand, and tried to join in as the host took it from him and reprimanded him with the rules – one singer, one song. No backing vocalists. So, instead, he began vigorously pogoing around the floor, clapping his hands, headbanging, and trying to cajole everyone sitting near the front of the stage area into sharing his energy and appreciation.
That was the first time I ever attempted karaoke, and I still remember it vividly eleven years later.
The second time, it was an aftershow party in very early 2008. I had been working on a pantomime, and all of the cast, crew, and ushers were enjoying private use of a hired nightclub. There was karaoke, and by about half-two in the morning I was drunk enough to agree to a pal’s suggestion to participate.
As one of the cast belted through his own unique, and trademark, rendition of The Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” (“Balls and Tits!” he cried gleefully), we decided upon the song for us. The obvious selection was Falco’s “Amadeus” – renowned, fondly remembered, and suitably ridiculous. Up it came on the screen.
Revealing himself to be surprisingly astute, given his aptitude at work, my friend immediately spotted the flaw in our plan and helpfully announced “Fucksakeman, it’s aw in German.”
It was, indeed, in German. We hadn’t thought beyond the famous chorus.
I rapidly descended into drunkenly listing all of the German words I could think of, rather than attempting to read aloud those on-screen. For a start, I’ve never studied the language, and I wasn’t helped by how fast Falco was rattling through lyrics I was struggling to comprehend let alone pronounce.
In hindsight, it’s unfortunate that most of my German comes from war films, Spike Milligan sketches (“Schweinhund!”), and five years of schooling in the achievements and failures of Bismarck, the unification of Germany, the first world war, and Hitler’s rise to power. It is probably just as well that it was a private party, I think in a pub I would have achieved silence a second time…
There are no plans for a third attempt.
It is fortunate that the UK does not have the same legislation as the US when it comes to the “crime” of jaywalking.
In Glasgow especially, traffic lights are provided more as a decoration, or as a suggestion, rather than as a mandatory crossing point. Crowds of people will cross the main city centre roads, regardless of traffic volume or colour of light. It is made very easy to position yourself in such a way that you have people to either side of you.
This is a useful tactic, independently recognised and adopted by some of my friends, that ensures if a car does plough into the swathe of pedestrians at least someone else will take the brunt of the impact.
Although I still have, somewhere, in some forgotten box, the badge signifying my membership of The Tufty Club, it seems this was not covered in the road safety advice doled out to schoolchildren in the early eighties:
It is such a common occurrence, and sight, to see people crossing using their own judgement that if it were to be made illegal they would be as well to just wall Glasgow in – given the size of a prison that would be required.
Any time I am with friends who shy away from crossing at undesignated points, or with traffic approaching, I tell them “they’re not allowed to knock you down.” This stems from something I was told once.
I was at a crossroads in the north of the city – where Cambridge Street meets Renfrew Street – and was, using my judgement and then-firm knowledge of the sequence of light changes (I studied in the area), awaiting the green man.
Over the street, a jakey (a young local with a taste for tracksuits and – gauging from his demeanour – tonic wine, cheap cider, and narcotics) began crossing towards me.
A bus turned the corner, narrowly missing him as he refused to let it impede his progress. As it passed he looked at me and confidently told me, with a swagger and in that infamous nasal whine adopted by those of his ilk, “They’re no’ allowed tae knock ye doon, mate. They’re no’ allowed tae knock ye doon.”
I admired his faith. I wouldn’t trust Glasgow’s bus drivers to not knock me down.
As one of my friends later said, when I related the story, in his head the law beats physics.
That was at least six years ago now. To this day, if anyone questions my judgement in darting across streets or in walking halfway across roads and waiting for further traffic to pass before completing my journey, and it has happened twice in the past fortnight, I tell them the same thing: they’re no’ allowed tae knock ye doon.
Strange how a chance encounter can leave such an impression.
I studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, which sounds far more prestigious than it ought to. It was a valuable experience as much for what it taught me about institutions and politics as for what I learned about the practical aspects of staging productions.
The building is located next to the Thistle Hotel, and an access road runs down the side of one and along the side of the other. Our side door, the main access point for small load-ins and deliveries, and providing access to the ever-present rubbish skip, opened onto the corner of this road. Across the street was the corner of the hotel, and an exit situated on the north corner at the east side of the building. Our door faced west, onto it. Here it is in Google Maps:
There was a buzz about the place one day in 2006, due to a big talk being hosted in the hotel. I happened to be on the street at the front of the RSAMD, passing across the end of the lane that runs off to the right in this picture. I glanced down the side of the building, as it was not uncommon to see people there who I knew. Sure enough, one of the guys from the year below me was patiently sitting on the low wall outside our door. I walked down the lane and joined him.
A handful of professional photographers were standing behind the barrier, seen on the left of this picture, and there were a few other curious bystanders milling around. The rumour was strong, my friend informed me, that something interesting was about to happen.
With no more pressing engagements, I sat there for maybe five minutes, chatting to my friend and idly waiting to see if anything out of the ordinary occurred. I didn’t have to wait long.
The hotel door suddenly opened and out came three or four men in smart black suits, closely followed by Bill Clinton and more guys in black suits.
Clinton stopped at the top of the platform, addressing the crowd from his position behind the black railing. There were maybe thirty people, if that, in his vicinity. I forget all that he said, as he imparted a few words of greeting and referred to the key topics of the luncheon at which he had just presided. He ended by saying, and I remember this vividly, “Give the power back to the people.”
There were cheers, and he raised his fist in some gesture of salute, or as a way of saying goodbye, before being promptly whisked into one of two big, black secret-service vehicles with heavily tinted windows. They both drove off without much delay.
But that, such as it was, is the time that I was part of a very small crowd in close proximity to, and spoken to by, a recent former president of the United States of America.
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.
When I was a kid, I was involved in a handful of local youth theatre groups. I remember vividly the time I auditioned to join one based in a nearby church, gathered with other young hopefuls in a side room by the main hall. The group’s founder and director was conducting various singing and acting exercises, partly done as groups and partly on a one-to-one basis, as I recall. I was accepted to join, and began rehearsals for a production of “Bugsy Malone” (in which I was cast as gym owner Cagey Joe – despite having rather have had the role of Leroy Smith), but shortly into the process the director had to abandon his beloved theatre group because of the pressure of continuing work commitments with the BBC, and he left.
I remember that first evening of auditions, that as I was leaving a couple of girls went up to the director and asked for his autograph. I had no idea who he was, or why they would do that, but when I went home I read for the first time the plea for cast members that had appeared in the local paper. It turned out he was in a programme that I was then too young to have ever seen, called Rab C. Nesbitt.
Years later, and I mean decades, when I mentioned to my then-flatmate that I’d been in a youth theatre group run by Eric Cullen – Wee Burney in the first few series of that famous Scottish sitcom – she made a disgusted face, as if (to keep it topical) I had just told her that I’d once appeared on an episode of Jim’ll Fix It. I protested to her at the time, that he was never convicted of child abuse or paedophilia, wasn’t charged with rape, and didn’t spend a long time in prison or die there. I remembered the case – it was so widely publicised in Scotland at the time that I think most people still do – but since I did have the vaguest of personal involvements with the man concerned, I had kept reasonably abreast of developments. I googled it then for my flatmate, and found this very clear and concise site, written by a close friend of Eric’s, which sets the record straight. As does the wikipedia page.
On that first site, from an interview conducted and printed by The Big Issue, I quote: “In his summing up at Hamilton Sheriff Court, sheriff Alexander MacPherson stated that extensive investigations into all aspects of Cullen’s case established beyond doubt that he was not involved in child abuse of any form.”
It was a massive circus that engulfed him, and everybody had an opinion or a rumour or a joke about it. He was cleared and released from jail on probation, but his reputation took a while to begin recovery. If you have the time, I recommend you read some of the facts and interviews from that case. It is tragic reading, that someone who finally stood up to his abusers (and ultimately got them convicted) was instead initially tarred with the same brush.
I saw Eric a couple of times after he had left the theatre group – he had come back to see our show, and I got him to sign inside the back page of my script. I still have that page in storage somewhere, and drew a border around it with a yellow highlighter I was testing out (and which I later regretted), but I think I lost or binned the rest of the book – when we read it in English class in second or third year, I looked for my own copy of the edition we were reading from, and couldn’t find it. It was just by chance that, a few years later and while at a park/zoo in East Kilbride, I saw and walked past Eric in the car park. He was with friends, and looked happy, but I doubted he would remember me – I had only met him half a dozen times, and I’d barely started acting in his theatre company before he moved away. Rather than go through the rigmarole of interrupting him and reintroducing myself in order to merely say hello, I just kept walking. It was a week, if that, before he died of a heart attack.
If you have the time or inclination, read some of the first-person witness statements, evidence, and interviews about what happened. It’s also mentioned in a more recent article about the return of Rab C. I didn’t know him well, but I remember him fondly – perhaps even moreso now that the facts of his case and troubled life are established.