Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

History

Banking On The Wrong Name – Part 1.

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

Dear Bank of Scotland,

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

Dear Bank o Scotland outdated suffix outdated suffix,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your cooperation in this matter is appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

Jordan R.A. Mills

Bank of Scotland Tweets


When Friendly Fire Is Too Friendly.

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.

Cafe India fire zoomedAbove: Still taken from STV video footage. My annotations.


MP3 Does Not Impress Me.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


9/11 – Remember To Remember While You Are Remembering.

Happy 9/11!

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.


Radio Uncontrolled Cars

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.

soldierAbove: Hide-and-seek, with guns.

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!”

 

 


Driven To Distraction

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.


Instrumental Presents Of Mind.

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.

empty-loo-roll-710819Above: A rudimentary dooroo-dooroo.


Witness The Unconventional Solving Of A Bloody Problem

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.


Objectively Spaced-Out On Art And Images.

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)

Jordan,
Glasgow, 2008.


What’s In A Name, Or Number?

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.

icecreamAbove: Not a sexual position, no matter how hard you try.


Averse To Adverts

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

banksy-on-advertising


Dubious Claims To Fame – 22

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.

tweet dr fox tweet

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.

tweet dr fox full


Diary Of An Anti-Tory Protestor – Part 5

“Remember Thatcher’s Victims”, George Square, 17th April 2013

They planted Thatcher today. Actually, I think they burned her. Either way, I do not care, and I suspect neither does she. The BBC and most of our media and politicians seem to be eulogising her to the point that it would be more honest of them if they just stood there masturbating while shouting her name. It sickens me. This woman was anti-gay, condemned Mandela, and befriended Pinochet – and those are just the first three that spring to mind, while trying to avoid the mention of steel, and unions, and pit closures.

This was an event set up to remember the victims of her years in power, and the injustices propagated and communities blighted by her endeavours. It was not another “death party” as seen on the day the news broke, being fully organised with the agreement of the council and the attendance of the police. It would be a peaceful rally, a chance to reflect on the pain she heartlessly and relentlessly inflicted, and a call to arms to rise against the still-living Tories who continue to assault us with Thatcherism. Tories who cannot fund care for disabled people, but have no qualms about spending ten million pounds on a public funeral for a stateswoman who was extremely unpopular. That is obscene, and must be strongly condemned. As must their plan to spend fifteen million quid on a museum in her name.

rally thatcherite cameron meme

When I told my friend that I was going to a protest rally, she warned me to stay safe. “It’s peaceful protesting!” I told her. “Rallying, chanting, listening, with banners and placards.”

She replied with a statement and question that amused me for the inherent absurdity that is implied: “But she is dead! What can that do?”
Indeed, what can it do? It gave me visions of protestors demanding Thatcher’s resurrection, as if that was the cause of our disquiet. Instead, I answered in a series of short sentences that – even when I come to edit this for the blog – sum up my opinion succinctly:

“She is dead, Thatcherism isn’t. The Tories continue to destroy lives with policies that do not and cannot work. This is visible dissent. That people are not happy. That we will lock arms and prevent evictions if people can’t afford the bedroom tax. That Scotland does not want, does not need, and cannot afford nuclear weapons. That the defence spending on Trident would cover ALL benefit cuts. That there is no money to prevent homelessness but they spend ten million on a funeral. That a YES vote next year will rid us of the Tories forever. Fuck them, fuck their dogma, fuck their propaganda and their lies, and fuck all they stand for. THAT is why I will be protesting”

And that is why I was protesting. I have had enough. I want my voice to be heard. I want all our voices to be heard – this government is shamelessly hypocritical, appallingly self-serving, and cruelly destructive. I will be taking every justifiable opportunity to swell ranks and provide visible evidence of discontent. We will succeed in reversing their unworkable decrees, we will oust them permanently from power by declaring ourselves independent next year, or I will gradually lose faith and heart (in whichever order) and see where life takes me. The one thing that strikes me, though, is something I posted earlier, after someone looked at a picture taken today and jokingly branded us “losers.” That is: if you don’t stand and fight for what you believe, who will?

rally me lynne grant Above: Lynne, me, and Grant. Photo: Adele McVay Photography Ltd

After three previous protests where I had held my “F_CK THE TORIES” flag aloft, struggling to fold it and grasp it against the wind to keep it readable, I knew I needed to adapt it. Either I could run some kind of weighting device along the bottom edge, to prevent it flapping loosely in the breeze, or I could use the provided channel and mount it onto a pole. This afternoon, I bought a bamboo torch in a low-price shop, cut out the torch, and then found that the diameter of the cane was too large to fit. It would affect the aesthetic to merely staple the flag down the length of the pole, and I live near to a small garden centre. I quickly nipped round there, taking the flag with me.

The proprietor was very helpful, and I explained straight away what I wanted and why. He ably assisted me, watching as I attempted to thread the flag onto the end of the pole he provided. It was finicky, but I could see that it would comfortably fit. As I persevered with it, he gestured to another customer, with whom he had been chatting at the counter. “He’s trying to read what it says,” he told me.

I looked at the other customer. “I could tell him, but he might not agree.”

“I can read it,” retorted the man, adding without malice “But you can add the other parties an’ all!”

I asked the salesman how much I owed him, anticipating it to be a few pennies, and not more than a couple of hundred. He graciously waived the cost, and I thanked him by telling him to watch out for it on the evening news. He said that I could tell them where I got the cane. True to that, and in the spirit of supporting local business, please visit Anniesland Garden Centre if you are looking for something they might have. I am not sure if it made the televised news, but the online report is here.

rally STV FTT stillAbove: Screen grab from the STV video on their site, showing Grant and me.

I headed into the town to meet my friend Grant, who was already in a pub adjacent to the square. I shy away from naming most businesses in my blogs, as I detest advertising and try to avoid helping any national corporation make money. I briefly considered naming this particular pub though, due to the incredibly rude manager I encountered there today. I shan’t be back.

I had been at the bar with Grant for twenty minutes or half an hour, and we briefly wandered over to the window to see if things had started outside. Back at the bar, leaning against it and facing the door, I was accosted from behind by a member of the staff. He was a short and stand-offish wee man, who would have looked more at home in a cap and tracksuit than in his shirt and tie. He asked me to remove my shirt, and it is to my regret that I didn’t playfully comply while whistling “The Stripper.”

Instead, I enquired why – being a rational man capable of reasoned debate, and curious as to what offence he could have taken that nobody in the local contabulary, in a handful of shops, in the streets, or in any other pub has. He belligerently told me that he “didn’t want it in is pub,” revealing himself to be the kind of Napoleon-complexed prick that life is too short (pun fully intended) to bother engaging with. I told him that I was just leaving anyway, and said that I couldn’t see what the problem was. This was all in good humour on my part, as I am interested in hearing intelligent views that challenge my own. Instead, he threw some further glares at me and ranted that there were children in his pub.

I didn’t see any children, but I also didn’t waste much time looking. I could argue that we should educate children as to why a great many of us accept and agree with the sentiment behind the “Fuck the Tories” statement – and that words are just words, it is context that gives them meaning – but the interruption from this aggressively rude interloper had already bored me. I left Grant to finish his pint, and walked out into the square. In future, I will be taking my custom to pubs who cater for an exclusively adult clientele.

Once I have caught up with the blogs, I might write the company a letter of complaint for my own (and perhaps your) amusement.
[Edit: I have, and you can read it here. I managed to rewrite this in a far more tongue-in-cheek way for them.]

rally shirt back Above: The offending shirt. Photo: Mean Street Photography

Contrary to my other recent experiences, there were almost no flags to be seen in the 200-strong crowd. I caught up with my friend Lynne, Grant joined us, and we stood near the south-west corner of the square, listening to the speakers. Thanks to the length of cane I had elected to buy (and then been gifted), this saw me standing at 6-foot-2 with my arm raised, hand clasping a 4-foot flagpole – like some living Glaswegian Statue of Liberty.

I had thought the back of my shirt was popular photography matter, but this paled in comparison with the flag. There must have been two dozen snappers took photos of it – the camera-phone owners, the hobbyists, and the professionals. With a strong breeze that kept changing direction, I did what I could to aid their shots, trying to hold the flag at an angle where the wind would keep it flying straight and the wording visible. This worked with some degree of success, the downside being that in most of these pictures I am looking gormlessly up at the flag. I think I became the second-most photographed person in the UK today, the first being dead.

With all of the attention that it was receiving, I soon found myself approached by a two-person camera crew who asked if they could interview me for STV. I agreed, and they immediately asked my reasons for being here today. I answered as honestly as I could, making the pertinent points that leapt to mind and that I have detailed above. I know that I hesitated at times, and did not answer as eloquently or as articulately as I had when pressed (by the Scotland On Sunday) as to my involvement at the weekend’s Scrap Trident demo. In hindsight, I wish I had told them that the Bedroom Tax “does not affect me, and yet it does, as it affects us all” – inasmuch as it is to the detriment of the welfare state, it will cause untold rises in homelessness and crime, and will have other knock-on effects too. Their published report, with a handful of inaccuracies, is here.

They describe me by saying of the crowd “some [were] clinging to flags … criticising the Tories with scrawled expletives.” It may be an expletive, but you can clearly see from all of my photos that the word is censored, which was deliberate on my part precisely so that it could be shown or published in news reports. As for it being “scrawled,” that must be the neatest scrawl in the history of doctors’ signatures.

FTT flag george square Photo: Lynne McKinstray

I thought I may be able to make my point about the tax to the circulating BBC crew, but they steadfastly avoided me twice – firstly to interview Lynne, and then to interview Grant. Sometimes, the BBC post on their site that they are looking for audiences for debate shows. These generally request that membership of any political organisation is made known, along with information about whether your mind is already made up on that specific issue. This is in their pursuit of balanced opinion, which has been sorely lacking in their sycophantic news coverage lately. I can only presume that they decided against interviewing me as my opinion was written firmly across my attire.

It turned out afterwards that it had been BBC Alba, so fuck it, no-one will ever see it anyway…

rally sheridan bus posters Above: Tommy Sheridan and posters naming the victims of Thatcher. Photo: Mean Street Photography

Tommy Sheridan was one of the speakers, and said what I wish more people in the public eye could have said recently:

“Some have said it is distasteful to celebrate the death of an old woman. And I was brought up to respect people, but it’s clear Mrs Thatcher did not respect us. She didn’t respect the workers she sacked, or the hunger strikers who died, when she was in power. We’re here to say ‘We don’t respect you either’. We won’t shed any crocodile tears over her death. But now we must look forward. Just as we united to fight Thatcher’s poll tax, I would urge you all to unite and fight Cameron’s bedroom tax as well.” – Source.

We left after the rest of the speeches, once the final musical act was on, and headed to a pub that was not the one I had been in earlier. Lynne and her friend were already there, having left before us, and as I sat down she brought up the potentially-offensive nature of my shirt. I called the barman over, showed it to him, and asked if it was okay if I continued to wear it in his pub.

He looked at me quizzically, smiled, and said that it was fine. Crisis averted.

Later, when I called into the nearby supermarket on my way home, someone else came up to me and smilingly told me “Great shirt! Be more assertive.”

Be more assertive.

I think that is the purpose of writing these blogs. I know that many of you are unhappy. I know that, at a basic level, most of us want to see the same things. Over on Facebook, I just read the gripe that “I’m still annoyed at £10m being spent wining and dining millionaires at MT’s funeral.”

If you are that annoyed, protest. Channel the anger. Show them they are not popular. If enough of us do it, they cannot deny us.

rally flag chambers Photo: Mean Street Photography

At the time of writing, it is three weeks to the day since the Daily Record published my tweet and the story of the retweet that started this ball rolling. As it did not adequately convey the fulllness of my disillusionment, I have resorted to taking direct action where possible. I have decided to stand with my fellow countrymen and fight for the rights that our forefathers battled for; to strengthen the numbers of the disaffected taking to the streets and proving that there is a problem with this government and their policies. This problem can only be addressed if enough of us make our opposition heard.

It has been twenty-one days, and I have taken part in two marches, a hastily-arranged protest, and a rally. In that time, the items upon which I have written “Fuck The Tories” have been photographed at least a hundred times. I have been printed by the Record, photographed by the Record, interviewed for the Scotland On Sunday newspaper, and for Scottish Television. Maybe it is because I stand out that people think I have something to say. I don’t want to stand out.

I don’t want to stand out, because I don’t want to be the only one proclaiming these views. I want, in the spirit of the original punk movement, a growing number of people to join me – physically, and in wearing their contempt for all in the street to see.

I will continue to demonstrate where and when I can, because I believe that we are in the right. I believe that we can make a difference. There is strength in numbers. I did not get here overnight, I got here when years of anger forced me to take action.

If you are angry too, then I hope you will soon join me. One way or another, we can change this.

 

vote yes


Diary Of An Anti-Tory Protestor – Part 4

Scrap Trident, George Square, 13th April 2013

I had to do a bit of research before deciding whether or not to join this demo. My previous excursions into public protest had been based on long-held beliefs: that the Bedroom Tax is unworkable and must be abandoned; and that David Cameron is a reprehensible cunt and that I should seize any chance to let him know in person.

My knowledge of Trident is less intricate. While I am opposed in principle to Scotland housing nuclear weapons, it is not something that I previously felt strongly enough about to merit my presence at one of their many protests. Every so often, there is a story on the news about activists (or maybe they should be termed deactivists) being arrested for blockading the naval base at Faslane where Trident is housed. These people invariably look slightly “hippier” than me, and while I am glad they are prepared to make their resistance known, I had no interest in joining them.

As previously asserted, I have recently reached the conclusion that the best way to oppose the Tories is to visibly oppose the Tories at every opportunity. This was undeniably an opportunity, to once again show that public opinion runs contrary to their policies. I do not want to blindly march for causes I know nothing of, and so I did a little background reading in advance. It paid off.

Trident sign

None of the friends who had made previous marches were able to make this one, and so I went along by myself. I had posted on Twitter, hashtagging various relevant terms, to see if I knew anybody who would be heading down. That was later picked up on and retweeted by some unknown accounts, resulting in my first trolling. Somebody composed a tweet to me, wrote “RT” at the start of it to make it look like they were simply forwarding what I had written, and then put their own words in my mouth. I forget the exact phrasing now, having blocked all those involved, but trust me when I say that “Keep Trident. We need Trident. RIP Maggie” is not the kind of thing I am likely to post.

I had not been in George Square long before somebody with an armful of them offered me a placard to carry, and I accepted. I had my flag with me too, although it was still folded up in my back pocket. Looking around at the assembling demonstrators, I was happy to see my friend Alasdair in the crowd, and I went over to join him. He was marching alongside the red banner of one of Scotland’s socialist parties, although I had to rely on the photographic records below to check which one. As far as names go, sometimes it can get a bit “People’s Front Of Judea/Judean People’s Front” when it comes to parties using the words “Scottish” and “Socialist.”

 

As we began marching, it became apparent that we were amid the quietest section of the crowd. There was little in the way of mass chanting or protest songs, but with Thatcher dead and not yet buried there were a couple of attempts to start a singalong of “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead.” The key problem there was that nobody knew the lyrics, which did nothing to prevent a few valiant and enthusiastic renditions of what might be the correct words. Whereas, for reasons I am unable to explain, I think I do know the words – at least to the second line, which is where they kept falling down. I kept this information to myself, however.

Soon, and somehow, we had migrated into the realms of another Disney film. In what I think was a group effort, as lines were added by different people until the best ones came together, we began singing “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Trident’s got to go. Now Thatcher’s gone let’s ban the bomb, Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Hi Ho.” It lended itself very easily to repetition, and quickly caught on around us. There was a good sense of cameraderie, and an upbeat atmosphere, although less of the anger and sense of civic pride I had felt during the anti-Bedroom Tax march two weeks previous. Somebody with access to the Scrap Trident Twitter page must have been right behind us, as they posted a photo of my shirt.

trident tweet shirt

Once we arrived back in George Square, having marched through and around the city centre, we spread ranks and listened to the various speakers. Then there was music, and more speakers, and more music, and more speakers. They just kept going, and by the third section of speakers a sizeable protion of the crowd had dispersed. Two sections would have been plenty.

As I stood listening to the first couple of sections of speakers, somebody else got a photo of my shirt. This is about the fifth picture I have found online, and that is a tiny fraction of the number actually taken – all by different people. I hope at some point that more folk will join in, and customise their own clothing. I would rather see heartfelt political messages walking up the high street than the names of a dozen faceless corporate brands.

Trident shirt george squarePhoto: Ritchie James Patton

While standing in the square, I was approached by a woman who introduced herself as being from the Scotland On Sunday newspaper. She asked if she could interview me, and I agreed. She wanted to know why I was there, about the statement on my shirt, and what I hoped to achieve, and I made her aware of the views that I have expressed in this and my other recent Anti-Tory blogs. She was familiar with the film “Network” and seemed to appreciate my “Mad as Hell” analogy. When she asked if I thought Thatcher’s death had helped drive support for this particular movement and protest, I answered honestly that “I don’t think it has hindered awareness.”

I was glad that I had read up on the history of Trident before leaving the house, and managed to remember some of the pertinent facts from this particular article. There were a couple of instances where I looked to my friend Al to confirm what I was saying, and he ably assisted by adding points. Like, for example, how they refuse to relocate Trident to Plymouth because of the risk to life, yet at Faslane it is closer to the nearest densely-populated area. It is these double standards, and contempt for Scottish life, that help fuel my dislike of Westminster rule.

trident interviewAbove: Being interviewed for Scotland On Sunday. Photo: Alasdair McDougall

Having handled myself well and answered fully and eloquently, Al approved. I posted about the interview on Facebook, and soon received a reply from one of my comedy friends who tagged her journalist friend and asked if that was who had questioned me. I looked at her profile, and it was. Small world.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, I posted about being interviewed and how, if you write “Fuck The Tories” on your shirt, it is useful to be able to articulate why. A friend asked if this was “Off the back of Tweetgate?”
“No, it is off the back of my shirt,” I replied. The press interest had been totally unrelated, a coincidence.
“Do they not know you are Tweetman?!” she asked, before telling me that she would buy a souvenir edition of the paper, and would I sign it?
“My secret tweet identity is safe! Unless they read this,”  I told her, agreeing that “I will happily sign anything for you, except cheques.”

In the end, the paper ran nothing of what I said, not even twisting my words to suit whatever their agenda may be. Instead, they printed a column reporting on a 12-person conga line that formed an hour after the end of the rally, in “celebration” of Thatcher’s death. I guess that is more newsworthy than a two- or three-thousand-strong march against nuclear weapons and unpopular government mandates. There is a video of the march here.

trident crowdAbove: Al and me, in the crowd. Photo: Scotland On Sunday.

On the Monday following this Saturday protest, there was a scheduled blockade at Faslane, with several hundred people present and forty-seven arrests. I was not part of that protest, although I took the time to read the briefing pack that was issued. I canot now find it to link to, but it is a thorough document detailing precisely how and why to protest, and how to avoid arrest if you want to show support without risking a blemish showing up on future Disclosure Scotland checks. They have done this before, you see.

As much as I disagree with Trident, my priority just now is to urge a rethink of the Bedroom Tax. That ill-thought-out piece of legislation is imminently about to leave people homeless, which will result in increased levels of crime too, as well as damaging families and communities. I also want to help stop the cuts on the welfare state, in particular the immoral activities of ATOS, which are seeing increasing numbers of affected people resort to suicide.

Meanwhile, That Cunt Cameron has just approved plans for a £15 million Thatcher Museum, while the privatisation of the NHS will directly profit a huge number of MPs. As for the myth of benefit “scroungers” – “Most benefit recipient – 60% – are working people who are so poorly paid by their employers or so exploited by their landlords that they can’t manage without state assistance.” Source.

This government is corrupt. It was not democratically elected by majority in England, and it certainly does not represent the views of the people of Scotland, who did not vote for it at all. I do not know how much more I can do, but I do know that – until the referendum in 2014 – I will do what I can to ensure that Scotland votes Yes and breaks away to fully govern itself. Westminster has consistently proved that they do not have the best interests of Scotland or its people at heart.

vote yes

The next protest will be on the day of Thatcher’s funeral. Then there will be speakers at the May Day Parade in Glasgow, and an Anti-Bedroom Tax day of protest on 18th May. I plan to be at them all, and anything else that crops up in-between. I am angry, and I am fed up, and I hope that if you are too then you will join me, as I have joined the thousands of others who got here before me.

“I believe [an independent] Scotland would legalise same-sex marriage. I believe it would reject Trident. I believe it would refuse to accept the victimisation of the poor, the ill and the weak.”
Source.

As far as the current balance of power goes, I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more.

Trident FTT flagPhoto: Robyn Ramsay


Diary Of An Anti-Tory Protestor – Part 3

Margaret Thatcher Goes To Hell, 8th April 2013

Thatcher Maggiedeth

Margaret Thatcher died unexpectedly peacefully, at the age of 87.  I found out about it from a friend who told me succinctly that “Thatcher is dead.” As far as I am aware, Thatcher was dead to Scotland decades ago.

Another of my friends alerted me that “Thatcher has only been in Hell twenty minutes, and already she has shut down three of the furnaces.”

Some of you will remember where you were when you heard the news. I remember where I wasn’t. I wasn’t in George Square, at the impromptu “Death Party.”

This was due to a prior commitment, or rather two (I went to a comedy club in the evening, letting Facebook know that: If you were thinking “I’m only going to Improv Wars at The Stand in Glasgow when Thatcher dies” then TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT.) Otherwise I would have been there with everyone else. I was always taught that you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, and it gives me no pleasure to witness ugly scenes of others revelling in a death, but while I don’t condone it I also don’t condemn it. Had I been there, it would have been to publicise my contempt for the Tory Party and for Thatcherism, rather than to rejoice in the passing of a wee old woman I never met. Nevertheless, I am glad that there was a small gathering and a demonstration of how reviled she was in Scotland.

The parties were roundly condemned by the reprehensible, war-mongering, toadying Tony Blair – whose leadership of New Labour is acknowledged to have broadly perpetuated Thatcherism.

thatcher - my further fb jokes

My own memories of Thatcher are inextricably linked to my childhood; of constantly seeing this cold and heartless woman on the television, and being vaguely aware of her policies. I recall the point when, in the early 1980s, they stopped giving us free cartons of milk at school. Whether this was the residual impact of her infamous “snatcher” actions, or down to various other measures, I cannot now say. I just remember that they started charging us for it, and recall the price gradually increasing.

On that note, a friend went into the nearest pub when the news broke, and asked for a “celebratory post-Thatcher glass of milk.” The barman duly poured it, and said “Since she’s gone, I can just give you this free.” He did.

I grew up in a town near to Ravenscraig – the steelworks that was shut down after the Tory privatisation of British Steel – and, without being at an age of full comprehension, I still personally knew of people who lost jobs and livelihoods as a result. Many of the surrounding communities were irreversibly destroyed. When I was sixteen or seventeen, and increasing in awareness, I discovered punk rock – the soundtrack to a previous generation of disaffected youth. On a Friday night, I religiously watched repeats of “The Young Ones” and its contemporary, one of the finest satirical sketch shows ever aired, “Not The Nine O’Clock News.” I can still quote vast swathes of the latter. These served to corroborate my view of Thatcher as a distant figure who sorely lacked compassion, heading up an inherently prejudiced party. It is, I believe, a mutual lack of compassion that has led to these “Death Parties.” Why should we care about someone who singularly failed to care about us?

thatcher greg hemphill tweet

I won’t mourn her passing, and I am sickened by the eulogising that has gone on since her death. Whoever invented rose-tinted spectacles has been doing a roaring trade this past week. There has been indignation that many of those partying “were not even born when she was ousted from power.” This is one of the weakest arguments I have yet heard, as if none of her legislation, policies, and leadership continue to affect (and disaffect) the people of today. Her legacy is well documented. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, but by way of extreme example, I wasn’t born when Hitler was around – but it doesn’t take much study (or more than a passing brush with the collective knowledge) to know that he was not a particularly nice person. Thatcher does not strike me as having been a particularly nice person. She permanently blighted lives. Regardless of age, that makes her, and her death, relevant to us all.

Thatcher Frankie quote

Rather than celebrate her demise, it seems more potent to me that we use this as a stepping stone to build encouragement for action against the continuing, incredibly damaging, Tory regime. Ding dong, the witch may be dead. But the dead Tory is dead; it is the living ones we need to fight.

On Wednesday 17th April, the government will spunk between eight and ten million pounds on giving her a send-off unrivalled (at least by the attendance of the Queen) since Churchill died. This is the government that tells us we need to cut back as there is no public money available for such basic amenities as housing, health, or alleviating the lives of the disabled. This stunning hypocrisy would be breathtaking, if it were not to be expected from these brazen, self-serving millionaires. Naturally, they will divert funds to see off one of their own. They were already able to claim back nearly £4000 in expenses just for turning up at Parliament during the Easter recess to say nice things about her.

Thatcher Loach quote

During that tribute session, Glenda Jackson MP was the only one who said anything worth listening to, the one to stand up and decry Thatcher for her destruction of working men’s lives and communities.

 

On Wednesday 17th April, at 5pm, I will be in Glasgow’s George Square. There is a mass protest planned at this vile misuse of money – in memory of her thousands of victims, but also a visible public demonstration against Thatcher, against Thatcherism, and against the sheer bloody-minded vindictiveness of an increasingly aloof Tory government. This time, I have deliberately made no other plans. I will be there.

I don’t care about this dead woman. I care about the country I live in, I care about the fundamental tenets of democracy and society, and I care about the steady undermining of a welfare state that was long- and hard-fought for. If you care too, then I hope to see you there.

 

thatcher - my fb jokes

 


Diary Of An Anti-Tory Protestor – Part 2.

Thales, Govan Road, 4th April 2013

I awoke and checked my phone, as I always do. Near the top of my Facebook feed was a post from a friend saying that That Cunt Cameron would be visiting a local contractor involved in Trident. It was a last-minute announcement, based on the schedule that had been released that morning, and I reposted it as “unconfirmed” on a couple of relevant Facebook and Twitter pages. I also reposted it on my own page, mostly because it allowed me to tie it back into this whole tweet thing (asking someone to hit him in the face with a shovel) and make a joke about it.

Govan unconfirmed fb

When he was unelected but nevertheless appointed himself in charge of the UK (including Scotland, where his party returned one solitary MP – the joke being that Scotland has more pandas then Tory MPS, and the pandas have a better chance of increasing their numbers), I had a box of eggs in my fridge. I don’t eat eggs, and they had been left behind by a friend who was staying with me. I let them go out of date, having decided that it would be worth the guaranteed arrest and publicity for the sheer pleasure of pelting them at That Cunt Cameron’s smug face. They sat languishing in the back of the fridge for six months, carefully undisturbed, before a house move meant I had to throw them away. It surprised me none that, in avoiding Scotland (and especially Glasgow) for as long as he possibly could, That Cunt Cameron had revealed himself to be more of a chicken than the original layer of the eggs.

It didn’t take long to look through various social media feeds to find that this was in fact a confirmed appearance, and that there was a hurried effort in place to assemble protestors to greet him. A few texts and phone calls, and I found that my friend Matt had decided to head down. Given the time, my need to shower, and then jump a train, the subway, and walk for twenty minutes, I realised I would miss The Cunt’s arrival but could be there waiting for him to depart. I was in Govan less than ninety minutes later.

I missed his arrival by mere minutes, and it turned out that most of those already present had missed it too. In a move analogous to the way in which he became Prime Minister, he had been quietly slipped in the back door while nobody was really looking.

After having some group photos taken by a couple of pro snappers – one from the Daily Record – it was decided that we would split up, some people waiting by the gate through which he had gone in, others maintaining a presence by the main entrance. Yet others positioned themselves at the roundabout between the two points. However he left, he would see some form of dissent.

Govan protest group pic
Above: Shortly after his arrival through the rear gate. I’m at the back, somewhere under the flag to the immediate right of the banner.

The guy from the Record asked if he could get a photo of the back of my shirt – proudly emblazoned “Fuck The Tories” – and I offered to give him a shot of me holding my flag, a saltire, which is more publication-friendly as I blanked out the “U” in the word “fuck.” He agreed. There is no “u” in “fuck the Tories” because you wouldn’t fuck them with a shitty stick. Not when you could use the claw end of a hammer. There’s an idea for a future shirt – “Fuck the Tories in the head with the claw end of a hammer.” The imagery is more violent than my chosen form of protest, don’t worry. This disclaimer is true, and is also for the benefit of the inevitable government departments who will eventually find and follow my online posts.

The man from the Record then borrowed and handed me a “Yes Scotland” flag, on a pole, and took several dozen shots of me facing various ways while he captured the slogans on both shirt and flag together. To my knowledge, and I have looked, none of those pictures have been published online or in the print edition of the next day’s paper.

My awareness of Scrap Trident protests is probably the same as yours – every so often, there’s a news story about protestors being arrested at Faslane. I disagree with Scotland housing nuclear weapons, especially when we can’t even house all of our citizens, and I think the cost of them is obscene. However, I had never felt strongly enough about it to register any form of support for the disarmament campaign. Buoyed by the experience of marching against the Bedroom Tax five days previously, I decided that any acceptable reason to demonstrate my disgust of the Tories is fair game. This was also my first opportunity to hurl abuse directly at That Cunt Cameron’s smugly disaffected, overly-wealthy face. In theory.

With a couple of hours to kill, bearing in mind that he wouldn’t be leaving immediately, and with the photos all taken, Matt and I walked from one site to another. We talked to some of the other protestors, the mood being generally upbeat despite the close verminous presence of the Prime Monster. Somebody down by the roundabout wrote “Honk if you think David Cameron is a cunt” on the back of a poster. She stood on a traffic island, holding it aloft and eliciting cheers for every passing motorist who sounded their horn in agreement.

Govan birdseye view

After an hour of not much happening, three police meatwagons turned up – riot vans full of brightly-clad cops. I heard that, at the start of the demonstration, the police had asked a couple of people “who’s organised this?” Met with general shrugs and the admission that it had been a last-minute protest pulled together by social media, they’d said “keep it peaceful, eh?” Testament to the attitudes of people who want to ban weapons of mass destruction, it was a very peaceful protest. The arrival of these three riot vans meant that there were now about as many polis as protestors. “Maybe it’s a buddy system,” someone said to me. I concurred, likening it to a game of football where every player is marked by another. “Man on!”

I think the polis lining the gate we were at must have loved overhearing our deliberations, as we watched the vans progress hawk-eyed. “They went down there, but nobody got out, and now they are parked up over there, so that means he will come out this gate – or maybe that gate – and then he will have to go this way, unless he goes that way. Wait, what about over there, is that a way he might go? Hang on, they’re moving. Right, so that must mean he’s coming out that gate, or maybe that gate.” And so it continued, everyone trying to second-guess police tactics that maybe the police themselves weren’t even fully aware of. It bordered on the ridiculous, and I hope the fuzz enjoyed it.

Govan ftt shirt

After a while, we spotted movement in the compound, cars mobilising in a way that suggested an imminent departure. From the other side, a protestor on a bike and others using the less physically-strenuous and faster method of smartphone communications confirmed that the TV crews and journalists were all leaving from the front entrance. Unsure where to stand, not knowing if the sleekit cunt would sneak out as he had sneaked in, Matt and I stood with a dozen or so others at the rear entrance. That was when we saw the entourage pull away and head round the far side of the building.

We ran the short distance along the street to the roundabout, past a bus stop of bemused commuters to where the others were chanting and waving placards, and got there just as the motorcade reached it and pulled away. At first, it wasn’t clear if it was them – they had made it up the street from the main entrance far faster than expected – but who else would be in a sleek motorcade of tinted windows? I did all that was left in me to do, the only thing I really could do in the circumstances, and shouted “BASTARDS!” as loudly as I could. The polisman next to me smiled. I think he saw that it was simultaneously cathartic and pathetic. Therapeutic but, of itself, futile. It was, however, heartfelt. I don’t know what anyone else in my position would have done, and all but one of the people I know weren’t in that position to find out.

Govan Pint fb

They must have hared it up that street to the roundabout, and one of the protestors (with a megaphone) loudly accused them of reckless and dangerous driving, claiming they had sped up on the wrong side of the road. Then there was cheering, and thanks, and the knowledge that we had done something to show that Cameron, his party, and the expenditure on this weaponry are not welcome in our country. Fuck The Tories. I went all that way to see him, and the cunt blanked us.

The photos taken of me never surfaced, despite the potential story there if the Record was to assimilate their article about my tweet with my appearance at protests wearing this slogan. I don’t really need or want the publicity, it just amuses me that they have now been involved twice in my one week of taking action. My one week. The first week. There will be more.  At the very least, we need a radical rethink from Westminster. At the very most, a Yes vote in the referendum will see us rid of the Tories for ever and able to govern our own people based on what we want and know we need. And not based on what some far-off millionaire is doing for the benefit of his school chums.


Diary Of An Anti-Tory Protestor – Part 1

George Square, 30th March 2013

There comes a point in every man’s life – or, at least, I hope there does – when you realise that clicking “like” on shared Facebook photos and statuses is not an adequate or forceful form of protest. My own study of history leads me to believe that women received the vote as much for the roles they fulfilled during the First World War as for their widely-known protest movement. Yet, it is is hard to believe that Emmeline Pankhurst would have been quite so powerful and historically renowned a figure had her cohorts not chained themselves to the railings of Downing Street and instead merely hashtagged #Suffrage on Twitter. On Twitter, due to the limitations of hashtags involving punctuation, it is not even possible to accurately tag it #Women’sSuffrage.

I was aware, through Facebook, of an actual physical protest being held in my city on Saturday 30th March. This was the end of the week in which, as previously documented here, I had sent out a Tweet requesting that someone hit That Cunt Cameron in the face with a shovel, which was subsequently retweeted by an MSP. It was reported in the Daily Record, and then raised at First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament. My involvement, the reasons for my tweet, and the sentiment behind it were not discussed, and the full (lack of) reaction can be read in the follow-up post here. It seems that I had violently and abusively summed up the consensus of growing public opinion.

I can’t remember how the protest first came to my attention, although due to the political motivations of several of my friends and mutual friends, it began appearing on my pages with some regularity. I have since joined the Anti Bedroom Tax Protest In Scotland page, and have long been a follower of the “The last person to enter parliament with honest intentions was Guy Fawkes” page.

 

Last summer, I had bought a couple of Scottish flags, saltire crosses upon the centre of which I stencilled the logo of my favourite band. One of them ended up on stage with them at their Glasgow gig, held aloft during their encore at The Arches to loud cheers. I had planned to do something similar for another band I was seeing in Berlin at Christmas, but never got round to it. With this “spare” flag still in a drawer, I looked it out and wrote “F_CK THE TORIES” across the middle of it. While the back of my shirt has the same phrase uncensored, it occurred to me that self-censoring the first word would make it more publication friendly, should any photographers or cameramen happen to record it. The message is still unmistakeable, and I deliberately used an underscore in place of the “U” so that, if I decide to, I can fill it in later. The task, which I had started when I got in from a late-night comedy show, was finished by about 5am. I slept a few hours, and then dragged myself out of bed and down into the town.

I knew a few people who had said they were going, and another couple of dozen who had clicked “attending” on the facebook page with no real intention of showing up. One of the former, my friend Matt, was also attending his first ever protest, and I had provisionally arranged to meet him. The overall plan was to assemble at the Green, march to George Square, and rally there. I was running a little late, thanks to the company who – due to the frequency with which they announce it – may be known to the uninitiated as “Scotrail Apologise.” This same company is better known to users of social media as “Fuck Scotrail.” Thanks to their sterling inability to run trains to anything even approaching the timetable they set, I made it to the Bridgegate just as the march set off. Matt was, he texted me, next to a large black Scrap Trident banner, and I stood on the corner of the street until I spotted it. This being a protest march and not an orange walk, it was very easy to infiltrate the ranks to cross the marchers and join him.

 

It fair fills you with civic pride to march alongside hundreds – thousands – of others who all care passionately about the same thing. Especially when you know you are in the right. This “Bedroom Tax”, to use the accepted colloquial term, is completely unworkable. The government are demanding people downsize into homes that just do not exist – it has been widely reported that there are tens of thousands of people who are now required to move into a couple of thousand homes. The housing needed – affordable single-bedroom homes – is not physically available in anything even approaching the numbers necessary. Those affected, therefore, will have to make up the resulting shortfall in their rent, on the back of this cut, and if they can’t keep up payments they will face eviction. On the face of it, this does not affect me. I live in a one-bedroom flat. However, on the back of all the other ill-thought-out strategies – involving Workfare, ATOS, the NHS in England, funding for Trident – and the general hypocrisy of Tory rulers who are, largely, millionaires and have little or no idea what life is like on the breadline – I have had enough. This party has one MP in Scotland. One. That is not a mandate to rule, and when That Cunt Cameron installed himself as the Prime Minister I immediately wrote “Fuck The Tories” across the back of a shirt, in the DIY protest spirit of the original punk movement.

 

With growing anger, I have watched as the Tories have systematically undermined the entirety of the welfare state – rights that were hard fought for by our recent ancestors. On the back of my infamous tweet, mentioned in the blog already linked to, and the general apathy with which it was mostly met, I realised that it is time to protest in a more visible form. I don’t mean, and am not advocating, masks and molotov cocktails, but just being on the streets and marching and swelling the ranks by the number of one. It is my belief that people are taking to the streets to protest the Bedroom Tax, because if they don’t then inordinate numbers of people will be forced to LIVE on the streets. That’s when homelessness increases, and then crime increases, while businesses fold as people divert disposable income into living expenses. It’s time to stand and fight.

This is how I came to find myself in the midst of three thousand people, wearing a shirt and holding aloft a flag that both state my view clearly – Fuck The Tories. I didn’t join in with any chants, partly from being self-conscious, and largely because everything I wanted to say was clearly written upon my person.

msp shirt protest

To my mind, this is the part in the film “Network” where he says “I want you to get up right now, go to the window, open it, stick your head out and yell ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more!’ I want you to get mad!”

I want you to get mad. This affects us all, directly or indirectly. You don’t have to support the SNP or want independence to realise that this whole Bedroom Tax fiasco is unjust and totally unworkable.

 

When we got to the Square, I bumped into or met up with another few friends. My friend McGovern is no stranger to socialism and protest marches, and he joined us to listen to the various speakers being introduced by comedian Janey Godley. I found the pair of us in one of the photographs that was circulated online after the event.

msp protest circled me mcgovern

At least four people took pictures of the back of my shirt – they got my best side – and three of them had the courtesy to ask first. When I went home afterwards, I stopped at a local shop to pick up some messages. A wee woman came up to me from behind and said “Do we just add a tick if we agree?”

Like I said, the feeling is widespread. If you feel that passionately, then do something. Make yourself heard. Stand up for what you believe to be right. Stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. Today, for the first time in my life, I realised that I feel prepared to lock arms with people and prevent evictions, if it comes to it. I’ve had enough.

I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more.

 

bedroom tax meme


Repercussions Of Retweeting Abuse.

This is a follow-up to my 21st Dubious Claim To Fame post, in which my request that someone smack That Cunt Cameron in the face with a shovel was forwarded by an MSP. The story was published in the Daily Record on Wednesday 27th March (page four.) On the Thursday, I received the first – and so far only – criticism for what I had written. It didn’t attack anything I said in the original tweet, or talk about the subsequent minor publicity, instead picking me up on a sentence I’d written in the blog post linked to.

I googled the email address and name of the commentor, discovering him to be an apparently well-respected author of (it seems) books on subjects as diverse as marketing techniques and the Titanic. He appeared to be accusing me of instigating anti-English racism because I had suggested that the majority of Cameron’s supporters live in the south of that country. I maintain that it is not possible to be racist to a specific geographical district, as the very term suggests an inherent prejudice against all of a country’s inhabitants. I have also made no mention of (nor exhibit) any general dislike of English people, or of their national character traits, and my statement related to the voting patterns of a particular area. The nationality of these voters does not factor. Here is what I believe to be the contentious sentence:

Show me a person who approves of, likes, or voted for David Cameron, and I will show you somebody who lives in the south of England.

I amended this accordingly, and inserted the word “probably” in front of the word “lives.” I also replied to the poster’s comment in full and offered to engage in further discussion. To date, as I write this a fortnight later on 14th April, I have heard nothing more about it, (or about the fact he posted it against the index of articles and not the blog in question.) This makes me glad, as to be racist against the English I would have to decide whether to base it on birthplace, current location, parental nationality, all of those, a combination, or some other criteria. Frankly, that is far too much effort, and involves far too many decisions. I’m just going to stick to hating the majority of all humanity, and in particular hypocritical or patronising figures of authority. With that in mind, you can read the comment and my response here (opens in new window) or in the screenshot below,

tweet blog comments censored

I have also heard nothing negative (and, in the interest of balance, nothing positive from people I don’t already know) despite having my Twitter username published alongside my tweet. If anyone disagreed with the sentiment of my words, it was very easy to let me know. Simply searching online for the story brings this blog up at the very top of the results page, and yet that one comment is the only feedback I have received. In the meantime, it started to bother me that – of all the things I write online: the carefully-worded and thoughtfully-edited blogs; the one-liners and jokes; the pithy statements, insightful observations, aggressive criticisms – the piece of writing getting most attention just now, comparatively, is neither very clever nor very subtle. It is far from my finest work. Hopefully it is not the epitome of my writing career. It did, at least, allow me to have a bit of fun – see the screenshot below.

tweet satire

On the Saturday of that week, I went out marching in protest against the Bedroom Tax, wearing my “Fuck The Tories” shirt which was much-photographed that day. There is a dedicated blog about that protest, the first in a series as I join and write about further protests against this Tory Government who, with only one MP elected in Scotland, do not have a democratic right to rule here. As I was posting on Twitter that day, I got a message from a girl I know. She told me that the issue of my tweet had been raised in Parliament, where she works, brought up at First Minister’s Questions a few days before.

tweet Ruth Davidson FMQ

I asked her if there is a public record, like Hansard, and later checked directly. The Public Information Office replied quickly to my email and informed me that: “The Scottish Parliament equivalent of the Hansard is called the Official Report and is generally available within four hours of a meeting of the Parliament finishing.  You can find the Official Report on our website at this address: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/OfficialReport.aspx Chamber business is also recorded and made available to watch online here: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/newsandmediacentre/30931.aspx.”

To save you some time, here is a YouTube link to the exact point where the Tory Ruth Davidson MSP mentions it, and the full transcript  can be found in the Official Report for 28th March 2013. As I later discovered, the Tories are not blameless when it comes to ill-considered tweets, in their case sectarian ones. This hypocrisy, of course, did not stop the Tories from gloating about it on their website. The Scottish Express printed an article about it too, but it all focussed on the issue of the retweet and the actions of MSPs rather than on very much of what I wrote, far less why I wrote it. I am very glad that I did not mention Robin Hood Airport, this is a level of publicity and scrutiny that I am comfortable dealing with. I don’t really need a two-year criminal trial with multiple appeals and vast press coverage.

tweet Tory Hypocrisy

My friend further elaborated on her message to me, explaining why she felt unable to tell me publicly about it and saying that the MSP in question, Derek Mackay, had been present in the public gallery at the time and “looked mortified.” Despite it being a casual throwaway (yet heartfelt) remark, I do seem to have accidentally generated quite a lot of hilarity among my friends. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

As for the original blog, it has had 109 views as of today, and (excluding encrypted searches, which don’t show up in the stats) nineteen people have found it using the search terms below.

tweet blog searches

What this whole thing has been, apart from an unintended but appreciated source of amusement, is a personal catalyst. It has become clear to me that – except perhaps for the work of Anonymous – online revolution is close to no revolution at all, and that it will take physical action and organised protest to make our voices heard. The Tories have no mandate here. They are enforcing unworkable policies that affect us all. People are taking to the streets to protest the Bedroom Tax, because if they don’t then inordinate numbers of people will be forced to LIVE on the streets. That’s when homelessness increases, and then crime increases, while businesses fold as people divert disposable income into living expenses.

Somebody, somewhere up the line, decades before I was born, stood and marched and shouted and rallied so that if I got sick, or lost my job, or had been born (or became) less abled, then I could still live without having to starve and freeze and sleep on the streets while I found my feet again. Someone I don’t know fought for that – for me, and for you, and for all of us. Now it is under threat, I consider it my duty to fight for it too. These were hard won rights, and we can’t let that count for nothing. If you too have had enough, then lend your weight to the peaceful but increasing public protests. It’s time to fight back.


It’s All Fun And Games Until You Realise You’re Being A Dick About Music.

When I was eighteen, I knew everything. I knew that I was smart, I knew that I was funny, and I knew that the music I listened to was the only music worth listening to. I especially subscribed to the mantra “if it’s not metal, it’s not music.”

This elitist belief denied me some of the finest music ever made, and although my taste widened enough to incorporate a vast amount of classic rock and even some indie, as well as the punk I had discovered at the age of 16, I deliberately denied myself the pleasure of anything vaguely termed “dance music.”

It was not always this way, but my earliest album purchases – Iron Maiden’s The Number Of The Beast and The Shamen’s Boss Drum – had seen me pursue the former as my way of (teen) life. I spent entire student loans on Maiden memorabilia, which is still in my possession (and soon up for sale.) I still love the latter album, but for years I stubbornly refused to acknowledge the artistry or musicianship involved in any of the music that got repeat radio airplay. There were songs that came out that I liked – Born Slippy by Underworld; Hey Boy, Hey Girl by The Chemical Brothers; Around The World by Daft Punk – but in an age when music had to be bought to obtain it (or taped off the radio) I didn’t engage with these iconic songs enough to purchase them.

 

It all changed when I was nineteen, and it all changed because of a girl. I think the age had less to do with it.

It was a chance meeting: I had gone to a gig with a friend to see some band he was into, their name being the only thing I now recall about them. Afterwards, he was refused entry to the club night due to a lack of ID. He went home, and I went in to see a casual friend I’d seen at the gig and recognised from school. She introduced me to the group she was with, and one girl in particular caught my immediate attention. This was in April 2001.

On the back of this turn of events, I found myself with a new social life, going to The Cathouse every Friday night to hear the same music played upstairs that now, in April 2013, they still play downstairs every Saturday night. The girl I liked, she despised Iron Maiden, and her own all-time favourite band was Depeche Mode.

Depeche Mode. “Haha, Depressed Mode!” I said, full of the ineptitude and cockiness that had helped render me entirely single for the duration of my life up to that point. This wordplay combined two of my favourite things – being a play on words and also a pop culture reference (it’s the name of a remix on Type O Negative’s Least Worst Of album) – or three of my favourite things if you include my longstanding habit of making quick-witted remarks at every available opportunity. Well, almost every opportunity – I’ve spent years learning that sometimes it is better to remain silent, for various reasons. Learning to enjoy the silence.

This conversation may have been the moment that changed my life.

I didn’t particularly want to belittle someone for their taste in music, finally maturing a bit as I then was, and I certainly didn’t want to do so ignorantly. Not to a girl I liked, anyway. I decided, perhaps for the first time, to check the band out before dismissing them out of hand. That way, I would have an informed opinion, grounds on which to judge them. If that sounds like a mixture of arrogance and common sense, then that is probably what it was.

It was the time of Napster and AudioGalaxy, of 56k dial-up modems that screeched intolerably as they downloaded one MP3 file every fifteen or twenty minutes. Depeche Mode had just released an album – Exciter – and I picked a track from it at random, probably based on the size of the file or the anticipated download time. I forget which track, although I think it was “Shine”, but down it came and I played it. To my surprise, I liked it. I liked it a lot. I downloaded the entire album, and burned it to CD using then-emerging technology. Given how commonplace downloading has become, the speeds now involved, and the gradual eradication of physical media formats, it is crazy to realise that a mere 12 years ago we still believed our VHS tapes were collectors items, while DVDs were some exotic and expensive novelty.

 

I enjoyed the “Exciter” album, and I went out and bought, on CD, in shops, the compilation albums “Singles 81>85” and “Singles 86>98”. The latter opened with Stripped, and I knew there was no chance that it could possibly be as good as one of my then-favourite tracks: Charlie Clouser’s remix of the Rammstein cover version. Again, I found myself proved wrong. Stripped, in its original form, is such a beautiful and subversive song. It far surpasses the excellent cover.

My eyes were opened, as was my mind, and I fell in love with DM and their melodic, entrancing music. I loved their experimentation with musical styles and with samples. I loved their music, I loved their lyrics, and I loved how dark and subversive they were. This is how it began. I started buying up their back catalogue on CD, including the occasional maxi-single when it appeared in the local second-hand record stores, and I picked up most of their early video releases in the same way. Again, those VHS tapes were collectors items at the time, yet they are now obsolete and (I suspect) largely worthless. I had been wrong.

I downloaded one of their tracks, so as to have a basis from which to decry them. And then I downloaded the rest of that album. Then I bought their two “best of” albums. Over the years that followed I bought the entirety of their back catalogue, various tribute albums, half a dozen second-hand videos, three or four DVDs, a paperback band biography, five t-shirts, a hooded top, some posters, most of singer Dave Gahan’s solo output, and tickets to see them on four occasions on three tours in two countries.

I think there was a valuable lesson in there, about prejudice, about arrogance, and about not being a dick. It has certainly led me to be a lot more open-minded, and was the first step in the considerable broadening of my musical taste. Not least because I barely listen to Iron Maiden (or even metal) these days, and now own a huge number of albums by The Chemical Brothers, Underworld, and Daft Punk. Underworld are one of my top five favourite live acts too.

As for this girl, who was the unwitting catalyst for this voyage of discovery? We dated for a few months, we stopped, we remained the closest of friends. She was there at the very start of my twenties, and she was still there at the start of my thirties. I trust and respect nobody on this planet more, and have mentioned before how her influence, inspiration, and significance in my life is second to none. This morning, I phoned the ticketline the minute it opened and bought our tickets to see Depeche Mode play live at the end of the year. It will be only their second Glasgow show in about twenty years. We were at the last one too, and I bought the officially-released live CD recorded on the night.

 

“You don’t have to come with me,” she said when I asked if she wanted me to get tickets, the nature of our friendship having changed although the fierce loyalty remains. “I’m happy to just go alone.”

I cannot imagine seeing them without her beside me. We made a pact shortly after we met in 2001, having just missed the Exciter Tour, that we would definitely travel to see them on the next tour. True to that, we went to Manchester and London in 2006 (when again there was no Scottish show), and saw them in Glasgow in 2009. I have every intention that we will see them together in 2013.

Now I am 31 and I am fully aware that I definitely do not know everything. What I do know, though, is that I was exceptionally fortunate to meet her.

 

 


Karaoke – What A Carry-On.

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.

 

 


Crossing Pedestrians At Pedestrian Crossings.

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.

 

 


Dubious Claims To Fame – 20

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:

rsamd doors

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.


Dubious Claims To Fame – 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dubious Claims To Fame – 14

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.