Irrational Encounters With The Modern World


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.



This Is My Battlefield.

I went into my local library yesterday, looking for a specific book about the First World War. It is part of a well-known and highly-regarded series of history books, and I actually own a copy of it – it just happens to be in storage at the moment. The woman at the desk was very helpful, and advised me that every copy of the book that Glasgow Libraries own is out, overdue, and all but one are missing – taken out and never returned.

While she was searching, the guy left the desk and went to the relevant shelf – six metres away, if that – and looked to see if they had a copy. He came back and said that they didn’t have it, but they did have this book in the same series and about the Second World War, if I’d like that instead.

You know how all wars are interchangeable – historically, geographically, and tactically. The Second World War is just like the First World War, it’s just one number away – they’re practically neighbours. The use of Chlorine Gas that killed soldiers in the first war of attrition is much like the incendiary bombs that killed the civilian population of Dresden, differing only in almost every conceivable detail.

In the end, I left the book on the Second World War and just came back home and watched Braveheart while listening to Jeff Wayne’s “War Of The Worlds.” Since we’re not marking any clear distinction between conflicts any more.



It’s All In The Name…

There’s a Jewish American, or an American Jew – whichever heritage takes precedence – on the Glasgow comedy scene, and recently we didn’t quite see eye-to-eye on something. Partly this is due to a height difference of about twelve or fourteen inches, but the air has been cleared now so I only mention this in passing. And to make that joke.

Flicking through the guide for this year’s annual comedy festival, I noticed that the show she is co-headlining¬† is titled “Culloden: Funny In Retrospect,” and of course some people will find this a little insensitive – especially those with any love for this nation and an awareness of its history, to say nothing of the many romanticised notions about Scotland that are held worldwide. But is it absurd?

With reference to the Battle of Culloden, I would say that – as a Jew – she’ll be familiar with the persecution of a race of stereotypically tight-fisted, religious people, who then had their clothing dictated to them by their oppressors – be it the outlawing of tartan, or the enforced wearing of badges and striped suits.

If only the title also addressed the Highland Clearances, then we could similarly look at the connections between that same persecuted race being forced from their homes and off the land by those same oppressors, before the survivors were largely driven to settle in someone else’s country.

It’s not really absurd, but you can definitely draw parallels with only the barest of knowledge… Although when I drew this to her attention, she pointed out that it was her comedy partner – a Gentile from London – who came up with the title. Which kind of blows my whole analogy out the water, and that’s a pity as I was rather proud of it.

Anyway, if you didn’t get these analogies, you might like to read up on the Holocaust and the repatriation of its survivors. Because I don’t really want to waste this joke, even though it turns out it’s no longer relevant.