Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Neds

Pubs, Offensive Shirts, And Invisible Children.

A letter to a national pub chain, after I was asked to remove a particular item of clothing in one of their bars. Nobody has previously complained about the garment in question, and so I curiously asked what the problem was. Instead of a reason, I got attitude. With all business names redacted, here is the letter I have just sent to their customer service department. Some of the facts, humour, and phrases have been lifted from my recent blogs, but I think they were worth reusing. I am very interested to see how, or if, they reply.

To Whom It May Concern,

I wish to make a formal complaint about the manner in which I was spoken to in one of your Glasgow pubs recently. I am not sure if the staff member in question is a manager or supervisor, but I do know that he was overly aggressive in his tone. This happened at 5pm on a Wednesday, as I was enjoying my first drink of the evening, and will require some background context.

You have perhaps noticed on the news that a former UK prime minister died recently. They tried to cover it up, but I think the story slipped through. Her name was Margaret Thatcher.

On the day of the funeral, I had elected to exercise my democratic right to protest. This is, in part, because I would like to exercise my democratic right to government – in my country, we elected one solitary Conservative MP. As there are five million of us, voting in 59 MPs at a general election, you can see the numbers are disproportionate. Scotland has more pandas than Tory MPs, and the pandas have a better chance of increasing their number.

Having recently decided to take a stance against this thoroughly unjust distribution of power, inspired by the constant and unworkable cuts being imposed upon us by a parliament of millionaires, I have taken to joining marches and demonstrations. I believe the time is right for growing public dissent to become more visible, and am doing what I can to swell its ranks. After all, if I don’t stand up for what I believe in, who will?

With this in mind, I have begun wearing a shirt that I made shortly after the general election in which Cameron was not fairly elected by majority, but managed to get into the top job regardless. On the back of my shirt, taking my lead from the DIY ethic of the original punk movement, I wrote “FUCK THE TORIES.” I am not often given to defacing my clothing, but this was heartfelt and I am quite happy to display my disgust with them and all they stand for. That was my reason for attending this rally on the day of the funeral which, at a time when there is no money for hospitals or education, cost approximately ten million pounds. It is no odds to me that Thatcher is dead, she was dead to Scotland decades ago. However, I genuinely hope that more people will follow my lead, rather than registering their discontent with the Conservatives by merely clicking on and sharing Facebook images. The rising unpopularity of this government needs to be made very obvious.

I was wearing this shirt on the day of the funeral, over a T-shirt, and as the rally to “Remember Thatcher’s Victims” against the tide of rose-tinted eulogising was taking place in George Square, I arranged to join one of my friends beforehand. We met in [pub name redacted], as it afforded us the comfort, prices, quality, and drinks selection that encourage us to be repeat customers of [name of chain redacted]. I also regularly visit [other pubs owned by the same chain] in this city, and have come to expect a certain standard of service from the pubs bearing your name. On this occasion, I feel badly let down.

I had been at the bar for approximately half an hour, enjoying a pint of Thatchers Gold cider as I have a keen sense of humour. We could see the Square through the window – one of the key benefits of windows being their inherent transparency – and watched as the crowd outside grew in number. Stepping forward, we tried to get a better look at the bus from which the speakers would address us. Then we returned to the bar, and I resumed the position I had just left, standing with my back resting against the counter as I faced the door onto the Square.

This was when I was suddenly and angrily accosted from behind, by someone whom I presume to be the manager due to his shirt and tie. He looked like he would have been more at home wearing a tracksuit and sovvy rings, accessorised with a half-drank bottle of Buckfast and a Burberry cap, but I try not to be prejudiced. He aggressively enquired “Could you take your shirt off please?”

Although he did use the word “please”, it was evidently not a polite request. I am not much of an exhibitionist, and don’t usually take my clothes off in public. At the very least, I expect to be handed a couple of notes if that is all you want, or if you want more then you can buy me dinner and a few drinks first. I have my morals. In truth, I now regret that I did not immediately comply in a mock-seductive manner, while whistling that well-known piece of music, “The Stripper.”

Instead, being a rational human capable of intelligent and reasoned debate, I questioned his request. I have been wearing this shirt for about two years – although I take it off and wash it quite regularly, as I take a pride in my personal hygiene. In all of that time of wearing it in the streets of various cities, in numerous shops, to music and comedy gigs, in the vicinity of members of several police forces, and in dozens of pubs and clubs – in all of that time, in all of those locations – I have received no complaint about the message it contains.

Indeed, the only time people pass comment is to register agreement. This ranges from “Nice shirt” to “Do we add a tick if we agree?” to “Hear hear!” and sometimes just a nod and an “Aye.” The broad spectrum of society to have approved of the sentiment include families with small children, little old ladies, office workers, manual labourers, weekend shoppers, huge numbers of pub drinkers, and – while sworn to not display an opinion – nobody in the constabulary in Glasgow, Manchester, Nottingham, London, or Brighton has spoken to me about it.

I was taken aback, therefore, to be asked to remove this garment in a pub where I had been drinking for thirty minutes without incident. I certainly did not anticipate that the demand would be issued so rudely.

I asked the manager (as I will presume him to be) what the problem was. I was very calm, and eager to discover the cause for the sole disapproval I have encountered against the sentiment expressed across my attire. He could have politely explained, however his Napoleon complex must have kicked in, as he just glared at me and in an equally hostile tone said “I don’t want it in my pub.”

I don’t want my country governed by a party nobody here voted for, but we don’t always get what we want.

I want to say that he was jumped-up, but had he jumped up then maybe we would have seen eye-to-eye. I do not want to say that he was short, but if you want to promote him to the next level you can do so by giving him a crate to stand on. I do not like to get personal, but nor do I expect to be spoken to in such a way when a clear and polite request would have sufficed,

His argument, and he was unduly keen to argue, was that “I’ve got kids in this pub.”

Whether they were his kids, underage drinkers, or if they had read a statement that – really – they should be educated in the socio-political background of, was not apparent to me. Words are not offensive in or of themselves, it is context that gives them meaning. I thought that perhaps I could try and explain that to these young and impressionable minds. However, I quickly glanced around, and could only see people that I would comfortably assume to be adults. It is possible that these kids had tried the old Beano comic trick, of sitting atop one another’s shoulders and donning a large raincoat, in order to slip into your pub unnoticed. If so, your employee must be commended for his eagle eye, as I failed to spot them.

This interloper – your employee – was evidently not in a mood for any form of casual conversation or meaningful debate. I tried to explain that I was just leaving anyway, but he glared at me with such vehemence that the best example I can provide by way of illustration is that of General Zod in the second Superman film. As he tried to penetrate me with his evil rays of Heat Vision, I decided that I was now bored with attempting to engage him, and simply left.

I joined the rally, where nobody complained about my shirt, and stood still for the numerous amateur, hobbyist, and professional photographers who asked if they could take pictures of it. This has become the norm, I have discovered. There must be close to a hundred photos of my shirt now in the possession of strangers. Some of these photographers have been children with camera phones, and at the “Axe The Bedroom Tax” march a fortnight ago one mother asked if her ten-year-old son could take a photo. My shirt is not offensive, the policies and dogma of an unelected government are. This is just a succinct way of summing up wide-reaching disgruntlement.

After the rally, I went to another pub not owned by [name of chain redacted], and asked the barman outright if my apparel would pose a problem for him. He laughed as if it was the silliest question he had been asked all day, which – being in a Glasgow pub – it probably was.

I do not expect that you will do anything regards this complaint, and certainly do not foresee any admonishment of the staff member involved. I just wish to register my unhappiness with the way I was spoken to in a pub chain that I previously held in very high regard. I will not be back in [pub name redacted] in future, and I think from reading this letter you will see that I have the conviction to stay true to that. If your employee believes that the invisible children in his pub are more loyal customers than me, then he can rely on them for his custom.

All in all, I found it to be a very disappointing experience. Although, not quite as disappointing as the media’s canonising of the woman who destroyed communities with her disregard for the lives and the livelihoods of the miners and the steel workers; who condemned Nelson Mandela and strongly praised General Pinochet; who covered up for the injustices seen in the wake of Hillsborough; and who died with the blood of the Belgrano on her hands.

If you would like to reply to this, I will be keen to read your response. Certainly, you may like to go some way to restoring my faith in your brand – if indeed you would prefer to retain my future custom.

Yours faithfully,

[Me]

 

 

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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.

 

 


Bus Travel Is Smashing Fun.

A few years ago, when I was still a Glaswegian trapped in Hamilton and before I escaped to the city that is rightfully my home, I used to voluntarily work backstage for most of the local amateur theatre groups. They were largely based in (or performed at) the Town Hall, as it then was. It has since undergone refurbishment and become The Townhouse – a delusion of grandeur that it didn’t really merit. When I went back there to see it, prior to it being reopened to the public, I had it pointed out to me that all the scenery and flight cases now have to be loaded in through a double door made entirely of glass. It looks very pretty, if you like your architecture of glass and steel, but it is exceptionally impractical for a door that will be in such heavy and potentially-destructive use.

While the building was closed for this makeover, and other changes they made included taking all the fun out of flying the scenery – the very thing that caught my interest when I started – one local group took to performing their shows in Motherwell instead. If Hamilton is too small and depressing, Motherwell is worse. Beyond that is Wishaw, and then after that you’re in Wild West country. Here is an example.

I took the bus over to Motherwell that first night of the week’s run, but I wasn’t entirely sure of my bearings – having managed to avoid that town for some years – and couldn’t tell, in the dark and looking through windows thick with condensation on the inside and muck on the outside, where to get off. Naturally, perhaps inevitably, I missed my stop. In the middle of nowhere, or at least in unfamiliar territory, I decided my best option was to stay on the bus and wait for it to make the final stop, turn around, and head back. Then I could admit my error and ask the driver to let me know when to get off.

Eventually, I was the last person on the bus. The driver shouted up and asked me where I was going, as this was the final stop, and I told him I’d long since missed my destination and would jump off on the way back. That was when he told me he wasn’t going back, as his shift was finished. He said he would drop me off though, and told me to move down and sit on the seats directly behind his cab.

I had been sitting maybe four rows into the bus, on the right hand side as I faced forward. There was one seat behind the driver’s cab, which faced the aisle, and another the other side of the wheel arch, and then rows of double seats on both sides all the way to the back of the bus. As instructed, I moved down to this new seat and sat down. The driver switched the main gangway lights off, and we drove on in relative darkness. I don’t know where I was, but it was some winding country road with little ambient light.

About twenty seconds after I relocated, if that, a half-brick came hurtling through the window beside the very seat I had been sitting on. I don’t know if the driver anticipated that or just wanted to be able to put the lights off, but the fact that it arrived so suddenly, and precisely where I had been sitting, right after he told me to move, rattled me no end. The rest of the journey was very cold, on account of the shattered window (the rest of it fell in on the course of the journey), but I did make it to my stop eventually.

I can’t remember, even vaguely, which show I was working on. It might have been South Pacific, but I wouldn’t put money on it. I can’t remember when exactly this happened – other than the early 2000s – but what I do remember, quite vividly, is the time that I missed receiving a brick in the face and a mouthful of broken glass by mere seconds. I’m glad that I was told to move, and happier that I did so. Timing is everything.

 

 


Sometimes It’s Just Not Cricket.

This happened to an old flatmate of mine, making it possibly the only story on here that didn’t involve me personally. He is no longer around, by his own hand, and the story entered into legend – but not without corroboration from several sources. Here, then, for posterity, is the story as I was told it, with all the details that were amended or corrected by eyewitnesses.

My flatmate, as he then was, worked for a well-known fast food chain, one that sells burgers, which barely resemble food, at very cheap prices. He was not backwards about coming forwards, and prided himself on his stubborn refusal to serve anybody who gave him abuse – he was large, and often worked at the window taking orders from the excessively inebriated in the small hours of the weekend. He told me once about the time someone called him a fat bastard, so he shut the window and stood there, arms folded, refusing point blank to open it again or serve the guy in question. The guy got angry as all hell, but my flatmate stood his ground, saying he wouldn’t serve him and wouldn’t serve anyone else either until he fucked off. This put the rest of the queue on his side, telling the guy to beat it.

“I’ll see you after work!” the guy shouted at him, and my flatmate just cheerfully said “No bother, I finish at four. See you then!”
Not that he could fight, but he had the courage or – perhaps, given how it all ended – was so involved with his own feelings as to genuinely not give a fuck.

He was at the counter one day, serving. A guy came up to him and placed an order, but chucked in some offensive comment with it. My flatmate refused to serve him.

“You better serve me,” the guy said, “Or I’ll get a cricket bat and smash fuck out the place.”

“Go and get your cricket bat then, ya prick.” I admire how calm and collected my flatmate could be, dealing with this unending sea of arseholes. What he was not to know, however, was that this guy had – at the table, in his holdall – a cricket bat. He retrieved it, came straight back, and took a swing at my flatmate.

My flatmate stepped back, unphased as the bat connected full force with a straw dispenser, shattering it and raining paper-covered straws across the floor. He calmly gestured to three locations on the ceiling and pointed out, matter-of-factly, “Security camera, security camera, security camera. Get tae fuck before the polis get here.”

The guy might have been stupid, but he wasn’t stupid enough to hang around and wait for the cops to show. He legged it.

 

As for my flatmate, things eventually went sour between us and we parted on bad terms. I regret that, and it is easy to look back now and realise that certain divisive incidents were probably indicative of his depression rather than from any desire to do wrong by us. I went to his funeral, with a lot of others, and paid my respects – he was a good guy at heart, and pretty damn funny. This is my favourite of his work stories.


The Answer Is Within Your Reach.

Here is a wee story about five neds I met while walking up the street one night. I live about four miles from the centre of town, and more often than not I walk home – it is a straight road, and comparatively quiet, so it doesn’t phase me.

This particular night, I stopped mid way for a can of juice, calling into my former local shop from when I lived nearer the town. On my way out, and a few doors up, I encountered these five guys coming towards me. They weren’t spread out, like Reservoir Dicks, but nor were they in single file. Just kind of spread thinly along a short stretch of the street.

The first one asked “Got a cigarette big yin? Buy it aff ye furra fiver.”

I Don’t smoke, but if you’ve got a fiver you could try the shop I just came out of. You might even get ten for that.

The fourth guy excused himself and said “Can ye gie’s ten pee?”

No, ask your pal. He’s got a fiver.

 

That’s one of those conversations I jotted down immediately, a demonstration of when a little common sense and teamwork would pay off…