I am not, to any great extent, superstitious.
I try to avoid walking under ladders, but that is because I do not want to dislodge them and neither do I want anything dropped on my head. I greet solitary magpies when I see them, with a general “hello, magpie” as I am not personally acquainted with any of them. I always look for a second one – ‘two for joy’ – and have written the word twice in the previous sentence in case, like me, you appreciate the reassurance of seeing a pair. I am aware of how ridiculous that sounds, and I have tried to wean myself using logic and rational thinking, but it is a habit long ingrained in me – since childhood.
Today, I woke with an incredible itch in my left palm. To my mind, that signifies the coming into of money. An itchy right palm denotes that you will soon shake hands, indicating an imminent new meeting. A less superstitious person would point out that having an itchy palm suggests you should scratch it. Even the superstitious are not agreed on what either means – there are countless (about ten) variations.
Having alleviated the irritation, by scratching it, I let myself imagine that perhaps this week will bring my considerable lottery win. I play twice a week, because I am sick of not being a millionaire. Last week I won £8.40, which is a start. I spent it on more lottery tickets, and suspect that I have walked straight into their trap.
My left palm still tingling, I came online and discovered that I had received a new email from a company I did some freelance work for late last year. They have amended my booking to adjust the rate, the upshot of which is that I am now in line to receive an additional £7.61 on top of the fee I had agreed.
Half of me is intelligent and enlightened, knowing that it must be mere coincidence to receive notification of incoming wealth so soon after my hand became itchy. Half of me is, nevertheless, struck by the indisputable proximity of both events. Another half of me struggles with fractions.
Given that the world is absurd, and that I have very much accepted the fact, the question is not “what does it all mean?” Rather, my question is: what am I going to spend this seven quid on?
The answer is probably pizza.
I went into my bank today. I had to go into my bank, as it was not possible for me to withdraw the low remaining sum from an ATM.
I cannot be the only person who has noticed an increase in the level of overly-friendly “customer service” provided by the counter staff, and how it is directly proportional to the financial mess that the banks have left the entire country in. I do not want to be engaged in this transparent distraction technique by some excessively-polite, smiley do-gooder. This is a business transaction, not a social interaction. I do not want you to try and be my pal.
It began with the blonde woman marching up and down the queue of four people, enquiring if we are “just paying in?” I am not sure how much time it would really save, in such a small queue, to be directed to the faster-payments thing. At least it is keeping her in a job, even if it does mean that I have to reveal the nature of my business in such a way that the earywigging people around me become aware of private details. I resent that. If she would just hold her horses, the reason for my presence would be made quietly known to the teller.
As bad luck would have it, I was called to one of the two tellers at the low desks. I was not really in need of a seat, and having to sit down when making the quickest of withdrawals is an unwelcome chore. I aim to be in such unpleasant places for the briefest amount of time, and needing to sit in order to be at eye level feels like they have added an element of captivity, not comfort. Worse still, the teller had evidently been a model student in his customer-facing training. He wanted to know if I was having a good day.
If this question felt in any way sincere or unscripted, I would be less annoyed by the persistence with which their staff always ask it. Instead, I find it to be intrusive – it is no concern of any stranger’s whether I am having a good day, a bad day, or an indescribably mediocre day. It has no bearing on whichever of my affairs I am in the process of conducting.
Bank staff are singularly bad for this. I will happily converse with the checkout staff in my local supermarket, with the conductor on the train, or the ticket office staff, and with just about anybody else who conveys any genuine warmth during the course of our encounter. By way of example, my supermarket staff unfailingly ask me if I “need any help with packing?” I always reply in the negative, and if I am in a reasonable mood I jokingly add “but you can help me pay if you like.” This usually elicits a smile and, more than that, everybody declines with good humour but in a different way. My point being that I am not above a casual conversation and a smile, provided there is some human depth to it. The banks, perhaps to nobody’s surprise given the crisis they created, lack humanity.
I find myself, then, entering into terse and largely one-sided dialogues with courteous but target-focussed individuals, whose individualism is denied them by their corporate masters and by the script they have rote-learned and from which they must not stray. If they thought about what they were asking, then they might stop and ask something else instead – something relevant, something less personal, or something that did not immediately lend itself to having its stupidity highlighted.
“Are you having a good day?” I was asked.
“So-so,” I replied.
“Could be better?”
By definition, if my day can be described as so-so then yes, it could be better. I neglected to point this out, instead telling him matter-of-factly:
“Better if I wasn’t taking out the last of my money.”
“Okay,” he said without listening, checking the balance of my account. “You have nine pounds thirty.” He began counting it out, continuing the line of questioning.
“Are you up to much today?”
Drily, I answered “Not with nine pounds thirty.”
He smiled. It was the smile of a man satisfied that he has done as his job requires of him. It was a smile that did not belie any indication that he had appreciated my attempt at injecting a little bonhomie into his day. Perhaps the possession of a sense of humour is seen as subversive. They trained him on which questions to ask, but not in how to respond adequately to the answers.
I received an email at work the other day. I’ve changed the identifiable details, but this is the gist. Somebody from England was complaining that a delivery had arrived later than the day specified, two different days having been specified, and he wanted reimbursed for time wasted. Part of his email said that he had called us, but found it impossible to understand the person he spoke to “due to a strong Scottish accent and loud background noise.”
This comment was actually buried further in the email, but as it had not been addressed in the previous reply, I decided to respond to it too. Actually, I was one step away from shouting “Freedom!” while I typed. I joked about calling him racist and offering five Scottish pound notes by way of apology. Instead, I answered professionally. Knowing that my email would be vetted by our proofreaders before sending, I included the following:
“Our call centre is located in Glasgow, and so the majority of us have strong Scottish accents.”
I thought this would be removed or amended, but I heard later from somebodywho got the response to it, and that had been kept in.
The truth is, the background noise is noticeable. Had the complaint just mentioned that, I would have offered twenty quid without blinking. However, by revealing an inherent prejudice, I offered a tenner. I would genuinely have offered just five, except I knew that it would definitely exacerbate things. My reasoning was that the delivery had still come within seven days, as stated.
My accent is fine, it’s your ears that are faulty.
There was somebody else on the phone once. A wee old lady, I could tell. “I think it was you I spoke to before,” she said. “I recognise your accent.”
I resisted the urge to say, deadpan, “You’re probably right. I am the only Scottish person working in our Glasgow call centre. So it probably was me.”
I now realise that, although that line is quite funny when I tell people the story, when it’s coldly written down I just sound like a dick. It’s something I am discovering with my comedy – some things are funnier read, and some are funnier told. It is important to get the medium correct. Please re-read this paragraph aloud, and with your eyes shut.
These tales remind me of the time when I bought the Entombed album “Uprising.” Part of the reason for my purchase, apart from already liking one of their albums, was the inclusion of a track called Scottish Hell.
“What’s that about,” I wondered. “Perhaps they had some bad esperience playing a gig here, or dated some woman who wronged them, or are cursing some whisky-fuelled evening.”
I don’t know about them, but I had a bad experience when they gigged here. Cathedral supported and played a lengthy, boring set. By the time Entombed came onstage, I only saw twenty minutes before I had to get the last bus home. Fucking shite, and they haven’t been back since. That was a little over eleven years ago.
Anyway, as soon as I got home, I skipped straight to that track, digging out the CD’s booklet to read over the lyrics. Are you ready? Here they are, in full:
“Satan kissed my dog/ Cracked his moral shell/ Possessed to wear the kilt/ In his Scottish hell.
I touched your lips your eyes fell out/ On to the floor behind the door/ I picked them up and washed them off /And taped them back upon your face.”
Whatever it might be about, I’m flummoxed. In locating the lyrics online, I now see that it’s actually a cover version too. I’m going to end this blog on a note of utter confusion.
Eighteen, eighteen, eighteen, I’m eighteen and I like it. That was Alice Cooper’s first hit, before School’s Out, and it was the song that Johnny Rotten sang along to on the jukebox when he auditioned for The Sex Pistols. Alice is my hero. My 18th claim to fame is about him again.
I met him once, on Halloween in 2010, and have seen him on the two Halloweens since. He has yet to bring back the ‘magic screen’ as he promised when I asked him about it, but I have since learnt from far more dedicated fans than I that Alice can rarely be relied on when it comes to such things – he has so many ideas for his shows and album concepts that not all come to fruition. No matter how much he might talk them up.
Having recently released a sequel to his seminal solo album “Welcome To My Nightmare”, there was a lot of excitement and speculation that he might do a themed stage show for the first time since 2000’s ‘Brutal Planet’ tour, and even more excitement at the prospect of him doing a new ‘nightmare’ show for the “Welcome 2 My Nightmare” follow-up. It didn’t really happen, and although he said in interviews that there would be three sections to the new stage show and a nightmarish middle section, it subverted expectation. Of course, subversion is what Alice has always done best.
As soon as the first show of the tour happened, a week before I saw him, someone posted a set list and spoilers on the Sick Things fan site. I think we all read it, and there was much disappointment that he had removed so many stage effects that he didn’t even get executed in this show. Add in half a dozen cover versions and only a handful of the newest songs, plus recent staples that have been in the set for years now, and for the first time ever I didn’t feel particularly enthused about seeing him. I was wrong.
Alice’s management pay close attention to the discussions on that fan forum, and the setlist evolved from show to show. By the time I saw him, in Edinburgh on Halloween, he was down to four covers (honouring his dead friends – Morrison, Lennon, Hendrix, Moon) and had added in a couple of long-unplayed classics. With less theatrics, more pyrotechnics than usual, a fantastic array of songs, and the incredible talents of the musicians he has hand-picked to form his band – what a show! Easily one of the best shows I have ever seen him do, and I’ve seen him seven or eight times now. It was also the first time, in twelve years of going to his gigs, that he finally played a track from one of the two albums I bought together as a teenager and which first got me into him – and that was a pretty special moment for me.
The claim to fame is this: Alice always throws items into the crowd – he taunts us with dollar bills threaded all the way up the rapier that he waves above our heads during “Billion Dollar Babies“, sending them fluttering into the air above us, and he dangles beaded necklaces just out of our grasp during “Dirty Diamonds.” His band throw out dozens of guitar picks and a couple of drumsticks at every show too, and my first piece of memorabilia was a Pete Friesen signature plectrum that I found on the floor of the Barrowland after my first gig. As of last Wednesday, I now have five Cooper Band plectra – one from new addition Orianthi (jesus, that girl’s solo on his live cover of Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” – amazing!), the Pete Friesen one, a Steve Hunter one and two Tommy Henriksen ones from last Halloween, plus a dollar bill and a branded balloon that I caught and carefully deflated. The best bit, though, considering how many shows I have been to and how many times I have been down the front and still failed to catch more than one dollar bill (and no necklaces) is that I now have Alice’s cane.
He carried it onstage for his opening number, then threw it into the crowd. There was a mad dive for it, but I got one hand high and one hand low, and although I had to fend someone else off, it became mine. I threaded it up inside my belt, under the doctors coat I was wearing in lieu of a proper costume, and it stayed there for the rest of the gig. I brought it home to Glasgow, and am very happy to have it. Here is a video of Alice waving it around during “Hello Hooray”, prior to throwing it casually away. I’d like to pretend that he deliberately chucked it to me, but at 3m 05s you can see how disdainfully he tosses it into the audience. Ha, if you look VERY closely, you can see my hand in the audience, giving the devil-horns, and then see as I lunge up with both hands to grab hold of it. 😀
The other claim to fame I have is that, owing to how far in advance I ordered my copy of the latest album, my name was printed along with several hundred others in the background of the poster that came with the limited Fan Pack edition of the album. You can see it highlighted and then enlarged below.
If you ever get the chance to see Alice live, you will not be disappointed – the greatest showman on the planet, and one of the warmest, wittiest people you could ever meet. I love him. Here’s “School’s Out” from that same gig – giant balloons, confetti, bubbles, swords, canes, top hats, a segue into Another Brick In The Wall Part 2 and back again, plenty of audience interaction, and masterful showmanship from Alice and every one of his band members – the biggest rock ‘n roll party going.
I had a letter in the mail today, from my bank. They’ve written to me to alert me to the fact that they are going to send me statements less often, in a bid to save paper. Even though they wrote that on paper and posted it.
It arrived next to a statement showing just how much interest I have paid on my overdraft this year. If they were really determined to be greener, they could have put both of those letters in the same envelope. Hell, I have online banking and they know my email address, so really they had no need to print anything off.
It is still stupid, though, to me at least, that we are kidding on that it is somehow better for the environment to print less – is anyone taking into account the amount of power and energy required to make, run, and maintain computer systems, servers, and the entire internet? Is printing less really the answer? I doubt it.
Still, we are so irrevocably fucked as a race, as this juggernaut hurtles towards the edge of the cliff, that it’s hard to hold any hope of us recovering. We are living an unsustainable existence – my bank wants to generate less paperwork, but their cash machines are running off the mains all day every day and their billboard adverts remain lit overnight.
And the stupidest thing of all is that, when I was last online, I changed the settings in my account and switched to paperless statements anyway. So they have written to me to let me know that they won’t send me something I’ve asked them to stop sending anyway.