I had a good day ruined by one of the Butcher Babies, after seeing them play.
I spent the afternoon with my niece, who is nearing her second birthday, and in a rare burst of sunshine and warmth we went to the play park. She had great fun, and in the visitor centre she finally found the courage (with my reassurance) to climb for the first time through the dark tunnel with their mocked-up badger sett. Previously she has been too scared. My work as Best Uncle continues.
Back in town, I followed my plan to see the Butcher Babies, whose debut album has had a fair number of plays on my stereo since the band were recommended to me – a year or so ago. The opening band were local, with a good press, and I have been trying to see them live for some time. Tonight, at last, was to be the night.
Sure enough, Splintered Halo drew a decent crowd of their own, and quickly won over the early-comers who were new to them. In sixteen years of local gig attendance, I have rarely seen a band so focused, so tight, with such a clear identity and character-driven lyrics and performance. With an EP out and an album in progress, and on the back of the show I saw this evening, their star may be about to rise – nationally, and perhaps internationally too.
The second (and main) support was a band called Sumo Cyco – the best and most interesting unknown (to me) metal band I have heard in years, and I write that as someone who has seen hundreds of bands and listened to thousands. With a hardcore energy, infectious enthusiasm, and a frontwoman both vocally adept and unafraid to jump in amongst the crowd, they electrified the gig. At the merch booth, cheerful guitarist Matt initiated conversation, on account of the KMFDM shirt I was wearing, and we both hail from Hamilton – me from the nearby Scottish town, and them from its Canadian namesake. Although fifteen pounds is expensive for a CD these days, I happily bought a copy of their album. Next time they play, I will be there.
Butcher Babies were impressive, an excellent headline band with two talented female singers. There is Heidi, a blonde with vivid red in her hair – she seems lovely and friendly. Outside the venue, I saw her walking from the tour bus and said “Good show,” in passing, and she grabbed my hand and quickly shook it with a warm smile and a ‘thank you’ on her way back into the building.
Their other singer, Carla, is a total cow with a bad attitude problem, as I learned to my cost just prior to seeing Heidi.
I was walking down the stairs that lead to the front door/exit of the Cathouse, heading home. At the very moment I reached the half-open door, on my way out, Carla stepped inside. I said “Good show,” and she asked “Could you do me a favour?”
I immediately thought (in hindsight, my error) that she had mistaken me for a bouncer – at the doorway into the building – because it happens to me all the time. In my boots, I stand six foot four. I have broad shoulders, weigh about twenty stones, and have a natural resting facial expression which seems to sit somewhere in the vicinity of disapproving, unamused, unimpressed, or whatever other qualities immediately suggest ‘bouncer’ to people in clubs, at gigs, and once at a bus stop. It had already happened earlier that very evening, in the crowd, while she was on stage.
Fans of comedian Kevin Bridges will relate to his description of the awkward moment in a shop, when someone mistakes you for a salesperson and you have to embarrassedly say “I don’t actually work here.” That was what I said, or began to express, in response to being asked for a favour – attempting to make clear that I was willing to grant this favour, provided Carla realised I was not staff at the club. Instead, she unleashed an unwarranted torrent of Fuck Yous and You Fucking Assholes at me, which caught me completely off-guard and led to me trying to further explain while her inexplicably angry outburst continued. It takes a lot to unsettle me, but she managed. She wanted a photo taken, of her and the mural on the wall of the staircase, and as that became clear I offered to take it – too late, as an unbelievably simple misunderstanding descended into complete verbal abuse. I was too taken aback to even retaliate, or to commiserate with the actual bouncer after the fact. I simply went home, shocked and becoming increasingly annoyed at how much of an unnecessary cunt she had been.
Above: Carla responded to me on Twitter, something like “I knew you weren’t a bouncer, but I asked you to take a photo and you said no, so I said fuck you :-)” – not shown as she deleted her tweet once I replied to it and before I screengrabbed it.
It is an interesting tactic, in this era of illegal downloads and general apathy, to round on somebody who has paid to see you just for seemingly refusing to take your photo. Presumably the aim of this thirteen-date UK tour was to build on their fanbase, not undermine it. However, I have seen bands who can manage to actually sell out the Cathouse, and bigger venues, and never have I witnessed anything like what happened tonight – let alone been subjected to it. Next time they play here they will sell one less ticket.
Last week, I flew to Los Angeles to see my favourite band play a unique and sold-out show. We have been friends for eleven years, I was thanked from the stage, backstage we drank together – following welcoming hugs – and we laughed and chatted and caught up until the bar was closed. We will do it again next time too. So the question is, if I have in my life bands who truly appreciate my support, why the fuck do I need Butcher Babies?
Update: It turned out to be mutual, as I was swiftly blocked on Twitter when I posted and linked to this blog. Admittedly, tagging her and referring to her as a “total cunt” probably escalated the situation – I suspect that is why her borderline-civil tweet was replaced with an inaccurate but all-out offensive, as demonstrated by the following.
One of my friends took it upon himself to ask her about it, receiving the reply below, after which he was instantly blocked too – hardly the actions of an innocent. Carla seems very fast to dish out unjustified criticism, and unable to take it. Without wishing to give any weight to her reply, there are two things here. Firstly, it’s hard to imagine that a Glasgow bouncer was interested enough to volunteer an opinion about an interaction between a sober punter in good humour (until increasingly bewildered by unfolding events) on his way out of the club, and a diva who had just headlined a show there. It might have been different had I hung around arguing, invoking the wrath of city centre nightclub door staff, but I just left.
Furthermore, if I was a bouncer, and one of the headline band looked to me and said of someone, “What a cunt,” I would probably agree too just to end the conversation – if he did agree, which I cannot know. Frankly, I do not know anyone who can be bothered entering, or looking for, drama – except, perhaps, an image-based LA band such as Butcher Babies.
This is now stalemate, and in the undesired territory of tedious online drama. For my own amusement, I wanted to employ caustic wit to try and get myself banned from their Facebook page too – but to do so would be to lose whatever high ground I might have. With 270,000 followers on their page it is hard to imagine any of the band will care very much, especially not as I have already been dismissed as “a jerk.” Rather than waste any more time on this, I would sooner go and chat with musicians who have less chips on their shoulder and more in the way of a sense of humour.
Update 2: Blocked again. You cannot reason with the thoroughly unreasonable. Game over. And you know what? I sincerely regret going to that gig. I want to be uplifted, I want to smile. I do not spend my time and money on supporting live music in order to offend the band members on my way out the door, and I wish I had never met that sour and twisted poisonous arsehole. She is a fucking snake.
I doubt I will ever be entirely certain, but it is possible that I may once have attracted the amorous attentions of the writer of a Golden Globe-winning, Gold-selling, chart-topping single. There is the distinct possibility that it was all completely innocent, of course, and that is the version of the story I hold to be true. The following is told without prejudice.
I studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, a degree which allowed me to arrange work placements in my final year. Many of my peers elected to gain experience with companies in Scotland, most notably Scottish Opera and the Theatre Royal. In my very finite wisdom – in hindsight, making contacts in this country would have been sensible in the long run – I decided that I would set my sights further afield than the venue which was literally across the street, and began applying for internships in America. Somewhere between a dozen and twenty emails later, one organisation replied offering me a place. Lasting nine weeks over the summer, it would count as two of my five allocations, contributing to my learning while also providing me with my first trip outside Europe.
As I would be studying throughout the summer of 2005, the payoff was time off during the preceding term – time spent hoovering up every available shift in the pub where I was ordinarily employed at weekends only. I saved hard, since the gig provided accomodation and nothing else, and booked my flights. A couple of months later, I was in the USA. I quickly befriended the Assistant Technical Director, bonding on the first day while talking about music.
“I like metal, but I like it messed-up,” he said. “Like Mindless Self Indulgence.”
“You should check out Combichrist,” I said, referring to an act I had discovered and seen a month previously. I saw them for a second time in New York City, about a month after this conversation, and Graham was at the gig with me. He was the only one wearing trainers (sneakers) and I was the only one wearing a kilt. MSI and Combi later toured together, and eventually remixed singles for each other too. On the way out of the venue I stole an event poster off the wall, which I still have. In December 2013 I saw Combichrist play live for the twenty-eighth time.
I found Americans to be friendly, happy to engage with the “crazy Scotsman” in their midst. The girls loved my accent, and there was at one time a photograph showing me at an opening night party, surrounded by four or five women. They were seen to be hanging on my every word, and what was never clear from the picture is that the word they were hanging on was “squirrel.”
“Say it again!” they cried, delighted as I truncated the “u” and rolled the Rs. Being a wind-up merchant of some years standing, it did not take long before I aped their pronunciation. “Say ‘squirrel’!”
I worked on a number of shows as a stage carpenter, learning a lot about life and professionalism (as well as my trade) in the daytime, and out-drinking most of the crew and other interns in the evening. I have a lot of fond memories of that time, and maintain a handful of friendships with those I met. It was a place outside NYC where new plays could air to audiences without the pressure of critical scrutiny, a safe workshop environment where – while I was there – a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright could test his latest script, starring someone who would later become a Muppets villain.
At some point, in all of this, I was introduced to the lovely Amanda McBroom. She was working on lyrics for a new musical adaptation of a film, having once penned a song – famously sung by Bette Midler – called The Rose.
We spoke a few times, on various occasions at company parties or in the production office, and she told me that she had visited Glasgow and eaten in Ashton Lane’s famous restaurant The Ubiquitous Chip. She was usually accompanied by her friend and stage manager, a pleasant Englishwoman who had served her time in the West End. Back then, I had vague notions of pursuing a career in that hallowed district – soon abandoned when I realised that I do not even like visiting London, and would find living there to be unbearable.
When the 7/7 bombings happened, I called home to check my wee cousin was okay – thankfully she was. The stage manager, having far more contacts in the vicinity than I, made frantic phonecall after frantic phonecall, visibly upset as she did so. I remember the callous – almost ridiculous – uttering of our production manager, a man with the unenviable knack of making you feel uncomfortable by merely speaking to you. He would look at you slightly longer than necessary, as if waiting or searching for a response, for some continuation of the conversation or expected answer which was not apparent. As this poor woman desperately tried to reach her friends and relations, his attempt at sympathy extended to a misguided “Now you know how we felt on 9/11.”
After a series of fun adventures I returned home, receiving an email shortly afterwards from the stage manager. Amanda was working on a new project based on Shakespeare’s female characters, and I was asked if I would record myself reading the Lady Macbeth lyrics. This would serve as a basis for her to practise and recite it in a broadly-authentic accent, taking into consideration that Macbeth was not Glaswegian and that US ears would need to comprehend the language.
Theatre being an industry that often thrives on favours, especially when you are a student of the craft, I thought nothing of it. I altered the perfect English of the writing to reflect the Scottish vernacular, changing the “didn’ts” to “didnaes” and so forth. As I recall, I read it aloud into a microphone and converted the digital recording into a file small enough to email across, including with it my version of the lyrics. I was careful to only reflect the local dialect, turning things like the “ofs” to “aes”, because however much of an ego you may think I have, it does not extend to redrafting the work of someone who only missed out on an Oscar nomination because her song predated the film that made it famous.
It was during this endeavour that the question was asked of me: “Why are you doing this?”
“I was asked to.”
“Aye, but – have you not got a lassie friend that could read it. Would that not make more sense, for her to learn from another female instead of a deep-voiced guy?”
I had given it no thought. Perhaps naively, I believed I was simply fulfilling a request that had been made of me, from someone who had been warm and friendly when I met her in a foreign land. The implication that she “maybe had a wee thing” for me had passed me by until that point. I genuinely do not know. Granted, I am tall, dark-haired, was then aged twenty-three, and had spent the summer wearing a kilt instead of shorts. However, I am not big-headed enough to presume that I did anything other than make an acquaintance.
Furthermore, dealing solely in facts, it remains the only time that a multi-award-winning songwriter – responsible for a world-famous hit – has asked me for any kind of collaborative input. I was happy to oblige.
Earlier this week, I was in my local branch of a mid-sized national supermarket chain. I happened to see an offer on burgers, and took a photo of the sign in order to make a silly joke on facebook, with reference to the UK horsemeat burger news story of last week. One of my friends looked beyond the cheap gag, and pointed out that the pricing information on the sign was arithmetically incorrect. I decided, for my own amusement, to write a complaint to the company in question. Ostensibly, it would be about the news story, and I would fill it with as many puns and as much wordplay as I could, before making a comparatively serious point about mathematical standards. This is the letter I sent, after the photo that I took.
Unless you have had the blinkers on, I am sure you will be familiar with the major headline story last week. On the back of the recent news reports about “beef” burgers and their contents, I’m afraid I wish to register rather a serious complaint regarding one of the products you offer for sale. I saw it, and took the attached photograph, in a branch in Glasgow, on Monday 21st January.
I understand that this brand, Birds Eye, was not caught up in the recent ‘horsemeat’ scandal. I can only presume that this is because they use their name to alert consumers to the possibility that their burgers may contain alternative types of meat, for example avian ocular organs.
I am aware that, by law, burgers must have a minimum meat content, and I absolutely trust that the majority of burgers do contain a minimal amount of meat. Listening to the naysayers, this issue seems to be less about eating Red Meat, and more about inadvertently eating Red Rum.
I understand, too, that – while your business may have stable suppliers – it is not your mane duty to vet all sources of meat used in the products you sell. I do not mean to nag, nor to stirrup trouble, and trust that you will not trot out a generic answer to this statement of concern.
Selling these particular burgers at half price, after this (without wishing to sound too grand) national outrage, seems – in a manner of speaking – a little like you are shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. It is almost as if you do not wish to be saddled with this remaining stock.
Having had free rein to bring this to your attention, I am now champing at the bit to explain the nature of my complaint. It relates to the advertising sign attached to the shelf edge in the photo, and I am not sure how it got pastyour quality control department.
Specifically, as you will see, the sign pronounces “Half Price” in large, bold letters. The original selling price, as stated and struck through, is £2.70.
You are offering this pack for sale at £1.29. I am not sure where you learned division, but it does not take great dexterity to realise that half of £2.70 is £1.35.
I realise that it is too late to amend this sign, and merely suggest that greater care is taken in future when calculating differences in price. Indeed, you could have made this offer seem more attractive to the potential consumer, by pointing out that it represents a saving of MORE THAN half price.
As you may gather, from reading this email, I am presently (like so many others) unemployed. I will be happy to come in and do basic maths or proofread signs for you on a regular basis, for a small fee. I am also available for any writing vacancies you may have, for example in public relations, subject to appropriate remuneration.
I do hope that you will give this some serious consideration, and await your reply..
If a reply is recieved, be certain that I will post it here. I sincerely hope that they will reply in the same spirit in which this was written.
Edit, 2nd May 2014: Fourteen months after I questioned their maths, to which no reply was forthcoming, they have still failed to grasp basic concepts. A three-day weekend is fifty percent longer than a normal one. They are eight hours short.
There is a newsagent in Byres Road famous for the cards in its window. Famous, at least, to those looking for flats to buy, rent, or share – it is one of the few places that still hosts adverts in this manner, and has proved to be an invaluable resource for many. It is also useful for finding handymen and other local services.
In late 2008 or early 2009, I noticed an advert that struck me for a number of reasons. I took a photo of it on what was my first camera phone. The quality isn’t great, but it serves its purpose – to remind me of it, and to illustrate, now, this blog post.
The headline read “Dogs Pee In Bushes.” I am sure that bushes are one of many vicinities where pooches relieve themselves, and it transpired that this was the name of a dog-walking company.
Reading on, past the general information regarding the options and prices available, it turns out that this new commercial endeavour had been established by one “K. M. Bush.” My first question, then, is why not play on the similarity in name to Kate Bush, and call your dog-walking company Hounds Of Love?
It becomes apparent that, given the proprietor’s name is Bush, there are all kinds of unexpected connotations that may be attributed to the previously strange-but-innocent company name. Dogs pee in Bushes? What you and your family allow the canines in your charge to do is perhaps best announced more discreetly, especially if it gives the impression that it may involve bestial watersports.
On balance, I suspect that it was a laboured attempt to tie the nature of the service to the name of the business owner. While it is hardly clever or catchy, it is at least more concise than “The Horticultural Locations of Canine Urination.”
It’s been a while since I mentioned The Work Programme, partly because they fucked me over so badly last time they allowed me some leeway in the months it took to try and sort out all the shit I was left in. Then they changed my advisor.
That was a fortnight before Easter, and that holiday meant it was a month before I was due back. My new advisor had booked me in to see him on Monday past, a day he’d taken off as annual leave, and so I saw somebody else new to me. We went through the usual rigmarole of me having to provide thirty years of back-story to someone who will never deal with my case again, and I told him that I have accepted that the time is right to sell off my record collection. He tried to discourage me.
The truth is, my music tastes have changed considerably over the past ten years, and as it has been in storage for the past seven years my collection is of more use to me as collateral. At current market rates (by which I mean I’ve started watching ebay auctions to see what the stuff I have is going for), it will comfortably fund the driving licence that I feel will help make me infinitely more employable. There’s no way I’ll be able to afford let alone run a car any time in the near future, but at least if I have the Driving Licence Required by so many positions that I see advertised I will be able to apply. It’s a start.
He tried to dissuade me, though. “There must be other options for you, I don’t like to think of you having to sell something that obviously means a lot.”
“Do you know of any funding that would cover my driving?”
He snorted a laugh and said it’s hard enough to even get a couple of hundred quid in funding. I know this from innumerable past advisors. They can’t help. He was telling me I need to make myself more employable, and also telling me not to sell my belongings to do so, but couldn’t offer any alternatives to the one I suggested. He was nice enough, but completely fucking useless. They all are, hands tied by red tape and underfunding – if you’re smart and educated, they don’t know what to do with you.
He gestured to a flier on the desk in front of me, a Jobs Fair they are holding this Friday (tomorrow). “Great Opportunity!” it tells me in big letters, “We are holding a Jobs Fair. Join us.”
He explained that this will be my chance to meet a whole host of employers in various sectors, where I’ll get the chance to talk to them and they’ll get the chance to talk to me. I can fill in applications, give them my CV, and – my! – how wonderful and lovely it will all be. I expect the usual: offers of zero-hour contracts; short employment times; agency work (that last one is what fucked me previously, though all cause problems in a system not geared to cope with them); “Sorry, you’re over-qualified/under-qualified/can’t drive.” I think he sensed my cynicism, because he spelled it out for me – “I’m trying to make this sound like a really positive thing for you, because what I didn’t say is, it’s mandatory. You have to go.”
That’s the point when I realised that “Join us” wasn’t an invitation, it was an order. Suits me, I’m bored of unemployment to the point that I’ve actually sat down and photographed nearly everything I own that has “Iron Maiden” printed on it. That was the band I followed obsessively and compulsively for most of my teenage years and some of my early twenties. If they released it, I have it, usually in multiples and some of it signed. I feel a strange sense of detachment looking through every single item (of about 700) that I spent years of time, money, and effort accumulating. It used to be so treasured, a source of pride, but looking at it all now, after everything that has happened in the intervening years to change my perspective, attitude, and demeanour, I can barely relate to it. Nor to the person I was then. It’s sad, in a way, that all this that meant and symbolised so much now means so little.
It hit home the other day, when I was photographing all the magazine clippings that I cut out and kept – full page adverts, multi-page features, half-page articles, and everything else all the way down to clippings that are literally the size of my thumbnail. What struck me, looking at this vast scrap collection I have amassed, is that I can think of no clearer indication that I didn’t know nearly enough women in my formative years.
If anyone wants to just give me two-and-a-half grand for the lot, and save me faffing about with ebay for the next few months, please let me know. Imagine something they released, and I have it. Possibly signed. Some of it so rare I’ve never seen another one out there. Bargain. Ideal present for any socially-inadequate teens you may know.
Like I said, it makes me a wee bit sad that I feel this way, given how much of my life it represents. At the same time, it’s been a long while coming. And I’m enjoying the nostalgia aspect of going through it all one final time, to document it as fully as I can before selling it off. So yeah, I’m going to go and have a drink now. And then maybe go to bed, because I have to get up early tomorrow and attend a jobs fair.
At this rate, I might ask them if they have any vacancies going for archivists.
I’ve told Alice Cooper that I love him. And I meant it.
Not in any kind of gay way, you understand, more in the manner that you love a parent or a close friend. Or your absolute hero. Here is the man who shocked the world with antics that are part horror, part theatre, and with a strong undercurrent of satire and wit; a man who counted his drinking buddies as Keith Moon, John Lennon, and Jim Morrison; was best friends with Groucho Marx, had a sculpture of his brain made by Salvador Dali, and was armed and then promptly disarmed by karate expert Elvis Presley. A disarmingly charming man, with a sharp sense of humour and enough anecdotes to keep you rapt for weeks.
Then consider his longevity, his constant musical reinvention, the stories and characters he has created, his embracing and spearheading of contemporary musical styles and trends. Piano ballads, orchestrated numbers, disco and new wave, garage rock, good old-fashioned rock n’ roll, industrial/nu-metal – Alice has done it all and more. While collaborating with musicians as diverse as Slash, Donovan, Kei$ha, Steve Vai, Rob Zombie, Bernie Taupin, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Bob Dylan considers him under-rated as a songwriter, and Sinatra covered him live – saying “you keep writing them, and I’ll keep singing them.”
It was 2010, and I got an email through his mailing list, inviting me to enter a competition to win VIP tickets to see his Halloween show in London. That was a Sunday, and I found out on the Wednesday that I’d won. It didn’t take much thought before I booked an extremely expensive train journey, for an 800-mile round trip, knowing this was my one chance to meet my hero, and get to speak to him at some length.
Finding someone to go with me was a problem though, being short notice and not cheap – I can’t even find anyone in Glasgow who’ll come to his local concerts with me. One friend agreed, then realised he’d double-booked, and so he offered to hook me up with one of his pals in London instead – someone already in the vicinity. As it happened, the friend he put me in touch with is a man called Erkan Mustafa. Or, to the 80s kids among you, Roland from Grange Hill.
So Roland from Grange Hill and I went to see Alice Cooper, on Halloween, in Camden’s Roundhouse. And then we went backstage to meet the living legend, where I spotted Noel Fielding from The Mighty Boosh while waiting. As it happened, I had crewed their show in Glasgow, and deliberately elected to wear an Alice shirt while working as I knew Noel was a fan. I approached him and reminded him of this fact, and spoke to him briefly about this and that. In lieu of a proper costume, I had taken with me a white doctor’s coat that I’d painted “Trust Me” on the back of in ‘blood’, and covered in spatters. It was folded up and tucked under my arm at that point, and Noel asked “What’s that?”
“It’s quite cool,” I said reflexly, unfolding it to show to him. “I doubt it,” he said in the manner you’d expect. Then he looked at it and conceded “That is quite cool actually.”
Alice was sitting at table like Rock’s own Santa Claus, patiently meeting and greeting each eager fan and competition winner in turn. I got to the front, knowing I only had one question for him. It’s the only question I’ve ever wanted to ask him, and here was my chance – would he ever bring back the “magic screen” that he used on the Welcome To My Nightmare tour? He told me to catch him on his next tour, and at the time of writing it looks like it might yet happen. I told him, matter-of-factly, that I love him, and that he is without doubt the coolest man on the planet – a compliment he accepted graciously. Asking on behalf of my friend who couldn’t be there, I enquired if he was ever a fan of Laurel and Hardy, as my friend runs a dedicated fan site and has secured interviews with numerous famous fans. Alice told me that he and Harry Nilsson used to mimic them when they were drunk, and then treated me to a passable impression of Stan Laurel. In keeping with the Santa’s Grotto feel (“I got a job in Atlanta/In a mall playing Santa/Not because of any talent/But because I was the only one the suit would fit”), I had my photo taken with Alice, and left.
They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but if your hero is Alice Cooper then you definitely should.
For those who only know Poison and School’s Out, here are some of my favourite songs. Starting with the visual stage effect that I hope to see performed live some day, where he runs out of a projected film and onto the stage.
I used to frequent the Cathouse Rock Club with some regularity, mostly on Friday nights and almost exclusively in 2001. One of the door staff was a girl who was instrumental in organising a coach in April of that year, which ferried a few dozen of us down to London to see the band Dimmu Borgir. We went down overnight on the Saturday, spent the Sunday hanging around Camden market and Soho (my first times in either place), and then went to the gig. It was a five-band bill, and the notable other act was Lacuna Coil. In Flames, Nevermore, and Susperia all played too – this was at a time when Dimmu and other bands of their ilk would only play one UK date, in London. Tours including Scottish shows wouldn’t happen for another few years. After the gig, we all piled back onto the bus and came home – this assorted motley crew of metalheads, many of whom were only acquaintances to me, and a handful of whom I still remain in (vague) touch with. I’m writing this precisely eleven years, to the day, after it happened.
A year or so went by, when I happened to bump into Lolly – the former bouncer – in a pub. Although I knew she had left their employ, in a bid to make polite conversation I asked if she was still working at the Catty. Her answer has stuck with me, as it’s about as memorable as an answer can be – “No, I’m working as a dominatrix now. There’s nothing like the feeling of earning seventy quid an hour while a grown man is on his knees crying as he’s sucking your strap-on.”
About a year after that, long after we’d lost whatever basic touch we were ever in, my workmates showed me a centrefold in the Daily Record – it documented a fetish wedding conducted in Gretna Green. They were ribbing me for it, doing that ignorant thing of lumping metal fans (me), goths, and fetishists into one easy-to-categorise group based on the visible attributes of black clothing, band shirts, piercings, and tattoos. What they didn’t expect was for me to look at the accompanying photograph and say “I fucking know her!”
Last night, I found out that a Polish friend is working in Glasgow as a dominatrix. She mentioned her boss, and I said “Is she called Lolly, did she used to work in the Cathouse, and was her wedding featured in the newspaper?” I didn’t expect the answer to be yes. It’s a small world – but then again I suppose the market for making grown men cry while paying to be on their knees and sucking a strap-on is pretty niche.
I need to renew my passport this year. In a deliberately symbolic gesture, I planned to sign the form at the stroke of midnight on Hogmanay, as 2011 became 2012. The pen slipped, I went outside the tiny box provided for my signature, and invalidated the whole form. I kind of hope that wasn’t symbolic.
The second form arrived, and I finally got round to sending it away this week, having located a person to take the necessary photographs – I don’t trust those booth machines, I don’t trust myself to use those machines correctly, and you only get one shot at it for your money. I like having someone check I haven’t blinked at the crucial moment before I pay for them. Also, I firmly believe in giving my business to people and not to machines where possible, to keep folk in jobs. You’ll almost never see me use a supermarket self-service checkout for this reason. Also, because I’m a pretty genial fellow most of the time, and often like to engage in a little friendly and good-humoured chat with whoever has had to spend their whole day passing things over an incessantly-beeping scanner. God knows, when I did that job it was little witty exchanges that brightened up the day. Like the time I was supervising on a busy and under-staffed Sunday in a branch of now-defunct catalogue shop chain, and a short middle-aged man approached the Customer Service Desk to which I was tied. “Just a wee query,” he said, immediately adding “not me!”
That’s what I love about Glasgow – life’s always been hard, so most folk have a smile and a wee joke at the ready. Even the harassed shop worker or bank teller, disillusioned with their lot and silently enraged by the relentless stream of idiotic customers, will generally offer a tired smile or witty retort if you show them a little appreciation. In my local supermarket, they insist on asking if you want a hand with your packing. I always decline, but sometimes invite them to help carry it if they like. At Christmas, I got served by the woman whose hair reminds me of Karen Dunbar’s shopkeeper in “Chewin’ The Fat.” She asked, as usual, if I wanted a hand with my packing. “No thanks,” I said, “but you can help pay for it if you want.”
“Aye, I didn’t offer that,” she said.
“God loves a tryer,” I offered. As I spoke it, I didn’t have to decide then if it is spelled “tryer” or “trier.”
“I can barely afford to pay for my own,” she said. I think she probably meant it. These are tough times for us all. I just figure the world could use a wee bit more social interaction, and the sharing of smiles with strangers, rather than see us heading for the self-service till before going home to chat alone to people online, resorting to typing “lol” instead of actually enjoying laughter together.
Anyway, I took my passport form and photos to the nearest Post Office. I got called forward before I’d put two of them into the envelope and sealed it. “We’ve got a check-and-send service,” the girl behind the glass said hopefully, trying to “up-sell.” I told her it was okay, I’d read the instructions and trusted myself. She looked at me dubiously. I didn’t bother to tell her just how many times I read and re-read the instructions in the past two months. Even when I am absolutely convinced that I’ve done it correctly, I still have that quiet nagging doubt that I think affects us all. But, every time I read it it said the same thing, so I have hope. Well, had.
“Do you want to send it special delivery?” she asked. I told her I didn’t, I trusted the Royal Mail to get it there – since that is their job, by law. She looked sceptical to the extent that I asked how much more expensive it would be, compared to just sending it first class. There was about five pounds in it, and although this doesn’t sound like much, it is when you are skint and have just forked out eighty quid for the passport and seven for new photos that are so awful you’re only prepared to show them long enough, and to those necessary, to get out of the country. I declined.
Her attitude knocked me off my stride though, and now I’m worried – given my recent experience with the missing phone – that my old passport will go missing in the post too. I hope not, but I wish instead that I could confidently say “of course it won’t.” It just seems indicative of further failings in the service industry, that you used to post things first or second class and be able to predict – with reasonable accuracy – when they would arrive. Now you’re lucky if they arrive at all. The rational part of me wants to say she was just trying to bump an extra fiver from me, and that the level of service should be as expected and is governed by law even without it being tracked. Hell, my phone was tracked and it went missing. I can tell it’s going to prey on my mind until the new one arrives though, or doesn’t, as the case may be.
So thanks, bad-mood Post Office clerk, I had some good chat right before with the guy over the road who took my picture, even though he came across as surly for most of it, and you successfully killed my buzz. I’d refer to you as Little Miss Dismal, except that would suggest there was an element of cuteness to you, which was sorely lacking.