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.
I haven’t written about the complete waste of time that is The Work Programme in a while, and this is largely because they appear to be doing less work than the unemployed people it is their sole duty to help.
I can say this with reference to personal experience, as – after they changed my advisor at Easter – I have had approximately three meetings in four months. It is supposed to be fortnightly, and they are supposed to be helping me conduct intensive searches for jobs and/or training, but due to a combination of Bank Holidays and the absence of my new advisor (who booked me in for a meeting on a day he had off as annual leave, and cancelled the latest one), I’ve barely been there.
In truth, I’m happier this way – I find the entire enterprise to be a mammoth waste of resources, and it is becoming increasingly clear to me that, if you are educated and literate, have no dependents or dependencies, and are aged 24 or over, then you are FUCKED no matter how strong your work ethic or desire to escape. They have no idea how to deal with you, or what to do with you, and so far have found me three months’ work that ended after seventeen days, and proposed numerous other jobs that have consistently failed to materialise. Fucking timewasters.
Recently, as evidenced by a blog I wrote here previously, they held a mandatory Jobs Fair event, at which there were no suitable vacancies available. Specifically, they had employers offering too few contracted hours to sustain anybody with rent to pay (based on THEIR OWN calculations), and others offering zero-hour contracts. The latter is a massive gamble, because monthly outgoings remain steady even if earnings fluctuate greatly – from lots, to literally nothing. You run the very real risk of not making anything, let alone enough to pay bills or eat.
One of the companies offering zero-hours contracts there was G4S, the security/stewarding company.
You may recognise their name as part of the first Olympics fiasco (I say first: others seem inevitable) – they were awarded something like £280m to provide staff, and failed. So now they are drafting in the army instead, and will lose approximately £60m of what seems like an unjustifiably large sum to begin with.
It has been reported that in Glasgow, G4S have lost the confidence of the police, who will now assume responsibility for security at Hampden. From the linked article:
Strathclyde Police’s decision comes after the force said on Monday that extra officers were being drafted in because G4S confirmed it was not able to meet its commitments at Hampden Park and training venues in Scotland.
This company has been paid a massive amount of public money to employ people, and Christ knows there’s no shortage of willing unemployed people and certainly not in Glasgow. So fuck knows how they managed to squander it so spectacularly – when there are folk crying out for jobs. It’s all zero-hour contracts though, so I guess people are reluctant to risk everything on nothing.
Give me Independence as soon as possible – Labour did fuck all for us, the Tories were contemptuous of us before and now it’s not just Scotland they are destroying. They’ve all proved they can’t govern us effectively, so it is time for us to have a go ourselves. The one thing that Independence offers, which they can’t, and don’t, is hope.
Without hope, we truly have nothing.
Sometimes I think I am a magnet for bams. Here in Glasgow we call them neds, Edinburgh calls them schemies, I think Liverpool calls them scallies, and most of the rest of the UK calls them chavs – those tracksuited perpetrators of underage drinking, muggings, stabbings, and the provision of unwanted children.
First off, I think it is all a question of circumstance – I think everyone is fundamentally decent, and it is the life you experience that shapes you. It is easy (too easy) to write people off as dole scum, benefits cheats, as unworthy – it is less palatable to examine the decay of industry, the social decline of areas, and the mass unemployment that has helped shape this class. This doesn’t mean that I want to engage with folk like this on the dark streets on my way home though, and yet I am constantly being accosted by them.
It used to be easy – they asked you for money, and you either gave it or declined. Now, though, they want a conversation – “excuse me, pal, can you do us a favour?”
Now I have to find out what this “favour” is, even though we both already know. It’s this instigation of a dialogue that irks me, I don’t want to talk to you, and I certainly don’t want to stop (or even break stride) to do so. Just be upfront. “Don’t suppose you could do me a favour?” You suppose correctly.
Here are two recent incidences.
I was outside the Classic Grand nightclub, which neighbours a huge McDonalds and has a bus stop outside. These are two of the main draws for nutters. I was standing outside the club with my friend, with whom I’d been for a drink prior to her shift starting, and she was making her way inside but talking to the door staff. The next thing, a ned comes up to me, removes his knitted hat (with the long tassles hanging down at either side, you know the kind), thrusts his temple at me and says “Here, mate, am I bleeding?”
I resisted the urge to answer “not yet”, or “aye, bleeding annoying.” Instead, I just answered in the negative.
He then turned to his friend, standing nearby and wearing the brightest blue and yellow tracksuit I have ever seen, with matching baseball cap. It was in primary colours, and he looked for all the world like a bammed-up version of children’s cartoon hero Bananaman. The one who had addressed me turned to him, removing his headgear, and shouted “Quick, swap hats afore the polis get here!”
That’s a Glasgow master of disguise right there – one who thinks the police will be foiled by the adornment of a different hat, regardless of the fact his accomplice is decked out like a fucking disco…
Later that same night, as I walked up Hope Street, I was stopped by some drunk looking for directions to Central Station. I gestured down the hill, as it is a straight road and the station sits on it, with one left turn onto a side street to make in order to get to the main entrance. I said this to him, just go down and turn left at the — looking, I could see the distinctive spire of the Central Hotel — “look, see the skyline?” I asked him. He looked at me without comprehension.
“Look at the skyline,” I said, “See that spire? Turn left there.”
“Left??” he asked with uncertainty, bordering on disbelief.
“Aye, fucking left. You’ve asked me for directions, I’ve just gave you them. Don’t question my knowledge of my own city, ya dick!”
So this is Glasgow, a place of hope or despair depending who you bump into (or who bumps into you) as you walk through it. Most of the time I love this city, it’s just the arsehole element that lets us down. Repeatedly.
I go to Camden Town with some regularity, and have done since I was first introduced to the market there in 2001. A crowd of us had gone down on a chartered coach overnight, in order to see a five-band bill headlined by Dimmu Borgir, and – having previously been to London only once, three months earlier and on my own – I followed the crowd. So that was my introduction to Camden.
Since then, Camden has been my main stopping point during any trip down. Since 2005, I have made the trip annually to see my favourite band (Combichrist) play in London, and as often as not it is a venue in that town that they play. I used to crash with friends or family, until I made two discoveries: Euston Station is a fifteen minute walk from the venue, and; the cheapest train of the day leaves there for Glasgow at 5.30am. So now, on the past few trips, I’ve gone to the gig, then to any aftershow party, and then slowly made my way to sit outside the station for a few hours before getting the train back home. It means I don’t have to hassle anyone for crashing space, don’t have the added expense of a hotel or hostel, and don’t need to fork out the best part of a tenner to get a travel card. I never have to research and run for the last tubes anymore either.
Pulling an all-nighter on the streets of London might be risky, and the first time I did it I was in the vicinity far in advance owing to the train I’d elected to get down. I wandered from the station to the market, looking for anywhere that might be open in the small hours – a 24-hour coffee shop or fast food establishment – and was surprised to see none. On the previous trip, I’d sat in a McDonalds all night, next to a different station from which I was departing. In Camden I decided, in true British style, to ask a policeman.
The first one I saw was on the street behind the Electric Ballroom, and as I approached he was hailed from a side street by a very drunk and cheerful native of the city. “Heh!” he cried, in a manner designed to attract the attention of anyone he chose to address, “Here!” The policeman stopped, looking, and by this time I was in earshot – both of us curious as to where this was headed. “What do you get hanging from trees?” the drunk asked, the answer being “Sore arms!” He then told another joke, which I forget, bid the policeman good day, and disappeared off down the street. I never knew until that point that anyone in London was in possession of a sense of humour. Or that there was a polis out there who could take a joke.
I walked up, as intended, and asked if there was anywhere nearby where I could kill the small hours. It still surprises me that there is nowhere in Camden – a vibrant and bustling town all day long – that stays open 24-hours to serve up a combination of grease, coffee, or internet access. The thought of having to walk or get buses miles out of my way to find somewhere didn’t appeal, and I’ve sat in train stations or at bus stops overnight in Glasgow plenty of times through the years when I stayed at home. I asked him what the area was like, and specifically if I was likely to get jumped. He stood, and looked me up and down – all six-foot-two of my mohawk-sporting, broad-shouldered, seventeen-stone. Scottish frame – and said “You’ll be alright.”
It’s little exchanges like that which keep me going to London every year. Well, aside from the band I love and the friends I’ve made.
About seven years ago, I worked in a pub on Sauchiehall Street. It was my first weekend shift, and I collected glasses.
They issued me with the green plastic tray, and sent me on my way. It was a shit job. I hated the music and the clientele, my boss tried to be nice but was a tight, patronising, tunnel-visioned weed, the Friday and Saturday nights were heaving with punters, and I spent the whole time avoiding drunk neds or picking up and washing glasses covered in their mutant DNA.
About an hour before closing, at our busiest time (people used to queue to get in. To a pub), I had just filled my wee green plastic tray with another twenty glasses, and turned to make my way back in to the back bar. As I turned, I heard from behind me the telltale sounds of glass smashing and a lassie screaming. Bodies scattered, girls screamed, guys shouted, bouncers came running. Some guy had taken a dislike to another, and using his Budweiser bottle (what else?), he smashed it off a table and thrust it into the guy’s face. The usual, and anticipated reaction, when hit in the face with a broken bottle, is that you bleed a bit, maybe fall down dazed, call an ambulance. That’s the expected response.
This guy was different. He didn’t like being stabbed in the face with a bottle, so he picked up the tall, heavy barstool on which he’d been sitting, and fucked it across the other guy’s jaw. The bar emptied, the police came swarming in, at some point CID turned up to take witness statements – the story was something along the lines of, the glasser was acting cocky and targeted a local gangster, and now he’d been fucked in the head with a barstool he was experiencing regret and – moreso – immense fear of retaliation.
When we closed the bar, the carpet was still wet with blood. That was my first shift in a Glasgow pub. It was the same pub where, at closing time, treasure could often be found. I have, to this day, an engraved foreign army hip flask that I found behind a stool. And a black knitted ski-mask, of the type famously/stereotypically worn by the IRA.
It was also the same pub where, emptying dregs into the sink, one night a small dead fish came out of a glass. I still have no idea where it came from, or how it came to be in our fish-tank-less pub. It was definitely a fish though, and dead. One of the bar staff put it in a new glass, with soda water, a straw, and a slice of lime, and sat it on top of the dishwasher. I spent the whole evening offering any bar staff passing through a pound if they would drink it. When they inevitably declined, I upped it to a pound fifty. Still no takers.
Crap pub, horrible job, couple of good stories.