I think my favourite voicemail was received, from a friend, in December 2006. The friend and I studied together, both of us graduating to careers in theatre, with work and life meaning our paths stopped crossing as often as they once did.
It had been a while since I had heard from her, and I emerged from my place of employment after the matinee performance of a pantomime to see that I had a message to listen to.
“Hi there,” she began in her cheerful and chatty way. “I hope you’re well, I’ve not seen you in ages. Anyway, I’m working at The Kings just now, and – you probably know this already – but Cafe India is on fire, and I know your flat is right next to it, so I just thought I would tell you. But yeah, speak to you soon.”
Cafe India was not just on fire, it burned so thoroughly that it was later demolished. Writing in 2014, the space now houses a supermarket on the ground floor and an entire block of flats above. It was originally a single-storey restaurant, next to a two-storey backpackers hostel, and then next to that was my tenement flat. I had the top floor, my living room being the gable end, and there were huge cracks in the interior walls. Cracks you could have painted Michaelangelo’s “Creation Of Adam” on, had he not chosen the Sistine Chapel as its location.
I was, therefore, a little concerned to hear that the dwelling that housed all of my possessions might be in danger of combusting. With the adjoining structures drastically weakened, I was not convinced that the tenement’s end wall would stay up. I raced home, circling the police cordon as the last of the smoke billowed from the ruin, and walking past the fire engines in attendance to the rear of the property. My flat was above a pub, and as I walked along the back of the building I saw the landlord. I had briefly worked for him, and went over to speak to him. I found out that the entire row had been evacuated, in case the flames spread, but that tenants were finally being granted access again.
I went upstairs, checked everything was in order, and then had to leave immediately in order to be back in time for the evening’s performance. It was not the most relaxing period I have spent between shows.
Full credit to my friend, however. They always say that “in the event of fire, remain calm.” I do not think she could have been any calmer, absolutely exemplifying that as she relayed the news to me via answer-machine. The panic and the relief both faded, but the message was memorable for its unhurried delivery.
I lived in that flat for three years. It was my first residence in Glasgow, and I moved out four months after the fire – having no desire to live next door to the building site it was destined to become. On the plus side, the structure of the walls proved sound, and the building still stands.
Above: Still taken from STV video footage. My annotations.
I used to work for the catalogue firm Index, one of only two companies encapsulating pictures of their products in glossy books rather than following the more conventional method of putting items on display.
Index ceased trading in the mid-2000s, shortly after I stopped working for them, though I imagine it was unrelated. It was obvious that the company was in trouble, inasmuch as we noticed that less and less staff were being hired to replace those who left. To this day, when asked if I cope well under pressure, I recall that Boxing Sunday when I single-handedly manned the customer service desk while also broadly overseeing the collection desk, jewellery counter, and till points. The queue for returns was so long that its end rarely made it within the confines of the shop, people lined up all the way to the front door and spilling into the shopping mall beyond.
At the time, I hated the job – or, more specifically, most of the customers – but in hindsight I enjoyed the responsibility I was afforded. The staff were good fun too, and there was a healthy cameraderie between us. Like any working environment, there were issues and grievances, but on the whole we got on, worked well together, shared a very bawdy sense of humour, and socialised frequently. We were young and carefree, twenty-somethings who did not take the work entirely seriously. At least three of us were regularly pulled up for poor time-keeping, the reason that I eventually quit, and one of my friends lost her job due to repeated lateness. She went in crying and pleading to be given another chance, was given that chance, and then – come her next shift – decided she had had enough, and stayed home. In retrospect, it is not exactly commendable behaviour, although probably on a par with the majority of attitudes at that age.
A year after I left, my old manager phoned me about a rather more serious matter. One of the women had made allegations against the most charismatic of the stockroom staff, accusing him of sexual harrassment. It was laughable, but policy dictated that it was treated with due gravity. I did not give much truck to the claims, as the guy in question was a friend who had a steady girlfriend and who – although his humour could be coarse and perverse – did not stand out any more than anyone else because of this. His boss, for one, was a dirty old man in the making, as I often joked with them both.
The other reason that it was laughable is that the complainant herself often instigated as many filthy comments as she was now calling inappropriate. She was short, bespectacled, and somewhere in her forties – it was hard to be sure, as she had the haggard face of a lifelong smoker, and the cough to go with it. There is little attractive about somebody who laughs in a manner that suggests they may be about to hack up a lung. As I understood it, her action had proved divisive in the little shop of thirty staff. The managers had to try and remain diplomatically neutral, but I got the impression that of those thirty staff twenty-nine thought she was “at it.”
In defence of my friend, I thought back to an incident some time previously, at one of the periodic staff nights out. This woman had produced, unwarranted, a bag of assorted genital-themed accessories, the most memorable of them being penis straws and earrings similarly shaped like the male member. She was in no way the chaste, put-upon innocent that she was now claiming to be. In truth, the thought of her naked would not so much turn you on as turn your stomach. In a building full of twenty-year-olds, she was not getting much of a look in, and this accusation looked like a bid to effortlessly secure a sizeable payout. I heard no more about the case, and am uncertain as to how it ended.
The conversation at that night out, at a table littered with shaped foil confetti and the remnants of explicit straws, was of a suitably risque nature. Drink flowed, and one of our supervisors was introduced to the term “sixty-nine.” This mutual sex act, named for the position of the bodies in relation to the figure 69, had hitherto bypassed our good Catholic boss.
You know that way, when you hear something for the first time, have a few drinks, and then later try to refer to your new knowledge but with only a vague recollection as to what it was? Thus we were all treated to the inebriated question “what is it again, forty-seven?”
It is hard to know what a 47 would look like, and it does not lend itself to seeming particularly comfortable. If any keen experimenters want to figure it out and let me know, I will be happy to share your findings.
At least she knew better than to call it a ninety-nine. There has been no point in anybody’s life, lying naked in bed with a partner, when one of them has interrupted coitus to say “honey, you know what I want to try right now? An ice-cream cone with a flake in it.”
With a remark like that, you would be guaranteed to make the bedroom cold enough to prevent your ice-cream from melting.
My aversion to karaoke as a form of entertainment is such that, if I am in a pub and it becomes apparent that there will be karaoke, I leave. I am willing to accept most types of music as background noise to whatever conversation I may be having, but I refuse to accept the dominance that is afforded a procession of tuneless drunks.
There are a handful of exceptions – I’ve tolerated it at a few places-of-works’ nights out, a stag night, and – well, that’s it to the best of my memory. As a general rule, if there is no occasion and I am just out for a drink, I’ll go elsewhere.
I have been coerced into participating only twice in my life. This is, in part, due to my complete and very noticeable inability to sing. The other factors involved were alcohol (lots of it) and peer pressure.
The first occasion was in “My Father’s Moustache”, a pub in East Kilbride, where I then worked. I worked for the catalogue shop Index, and our entire staff (numbering about twenty or thirty) were in the pub for some reason or other, besides the obvious. The drinks were flowing freely, and it was the night that Darius was kicked off Pop Idol. I remember this clearly, because at the time I was being told on a regular basis that I looked like him.
As a succession of regulars crooned their ways through all the usual hits – Mustang Sally, Brown-Eyed Girl, Wonderwall, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), New York New York – our party got progressively drunker. We were loud, rowdy, good-humoured, and having great fun. Somehow, I got roped into going up.
My song of choice was “My Way” as sung by Sid Vicious. This was probably towards the end of the period I spent listening to Punk, and I recall that I was wearing my Slayer tour shirt that evening. My name was called, along with the observation “As a special treat, here comes Darius, straight off Pop Idol,” and I ventured forth amidst gentle laughter, to take the mic.
The punters would look to the screen as each singer stepped up, to see what song they would be assailed with, and so up came “My Way.” People went back to their conversations, absolutely not expecting the off-key and piss-taking intro to that version of Sinatra’s classic. You know that scene in the western film, when the guy walks into the bar and the music stops and the place falls silent? I achieved that. My “singing” of that verse, in that vocal manner, briefly shut up an entire pub.
As the song kicked in, and I sneered my way through the second verse as Vicious had done, I was joined on the stage area by a stranger who – judging from his age and enthusiasm – was part of the original musical and social movement that produced it. He grabbed a second mic from its stand, and tried to join in as the host took it from him and reprimanded him with the rules – one singer, one song. No backing vocalists. So, instead, he began vigorously pogoing around the floor, clapping his hands, headbanging, and trying to cajole everyone sitting near the front of the stage area into sharing his energy and appreciation.
That was the first time I ever attempted karaoke, and I still remember it vividly eleven years later.
The second time, it was an aftershow party in very early 2008. I had been working on a pantomime, and all of the cast, crew, and ushers were enjoying private use of a hired nightclub. There was karaoke, and by about half-two in the morning I was drunk enough to agree to a pal’s suggestion to participate.
As one of the cast belted through his own unique, and trademark, rendition of The Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” (“Balls and Tits!” he cried gleefully), we decided upon the song for us. The obvious selection was Falco’s “Amadeus” – renowned, fondly remembered, and suitably ridiculous. Up it came on the screen.
Revealing himself to be surprisingly astute, given his aptitude at work, my friend immediately spotted the flaw in our plan and helpfully announced “Fucksakeman, it’s aw in German.”
It was, indeed, in German. We hadn’t thought beyond the famous chorus.
I rapidly descended into drunkenly listing all of the German words I could think of, rather than attempting to read aloud those on-screen. For a start, I’ve never studied the language, and I wasn’t helped by how fast Falco was rattling through lyrics I was struggling to comprehend let alone pronounce.
In hindsight, it’s unfortunate that most of my German comes from war films, Spike Milligan sketches (“Schweinhund!”), and five years of schooling in the achievements and failures of Bismarck, the unification of Germany, the first world war, and Hitler’s rise to power. It is probably just as well that it was a private party, I think in a pub I would have achieved silence a second time…
There are no plans for a third attempt.
There is, I am reliably informed, an accepted technique when it comes to thrusting a glass into somebody’s face – in a pub, for example – which results in maximum damage to the antagonist (and to the glass, obviously), but which limits the chances of you sending broken shards straight through your own skin. I learned this twice, but thankfully only in theory.
The first time, and I forget how it came up, my friend demonstrated the correct method, as taught to her by her father. She talked me through both the move and the reasoning, and I mentally filed it away for potential future reference. We talk about stuff like that periodically, and our shared sense of humour often centres – like much of our culture – around violence, so I didn’t really think anything more of it. Well, until a week later.
I was in another pub, with three other friends, and two of them (a couple) were playing about with their drinks. Suddenly, curiosity spurred my single friend to ask if we knew how to glass somebody – before explaining precisely the same technique I had been taught mere days before. This struck a chord, not least because this particular friend is slightly built, openly gay, and very southern-English. Quite how he ended up describing the established way of perpetrating one of the most Glaswegian of violent acts bemused me, and so I asked him outright, “How the fuck do you know that??”
It turned out that he had been taught by his friend – the sister of the friend who had shown me. Small world.
What worried me, though, was the thought of what my friends must know about my future – of what was ahead of me – that had compelled them to supply me with this information within a week of each other…
It wasn’t entirely coincidental that these other friends knew my Glassing Friend’s sister – although they hadn’t all met, all five of us were working in the same industry, and some occasionally for the same company. It was just weird that this topic of conversation arose twice in such quick succession. I said as much to my friend, who told her sister, and the pair of them reported the whole thing back to their dad. As I heard it, his reaction was to shake his head and lament: “I taught you girls everything – to read, to write. But the one thing you’re telling everyone is – how to glass cunts.”
I’ve told this story many times since, and recently tried it onstage as part of my stand-up comedy (having been made to, and happily, promised not to share the exact details.) It didn’t work in that context, and so here it is in written form. It is worth stating that, to the best of my knowledge, none of us has actually put this theory into practice yet. The emphasis is on the final word of that last sentence.
This is another one of those strange inexplicable coincidences of the type that inspired me to start this blog. I think you can read too much into things, and find parallels between anything if you look hard enough (which is how a lot of comedy is structured), but this particular one is too similar for me to instantly dismiss.
On Sunday night, I was in Utrecht (Holland) at a music festival and wanted to see Peter Hook’s headline set. As mentioned in the previous blog, my friend wasn’t keen on joining me, to say the very least. She eventually relented and came in with me, albeit grudgingly, when I asked her to do so as a favour because I wanted her company. She hated the band, and found them thoroughly depressing, but by chance we were joined by friends and towards the end of the gig she had cheered up enough to stay for the after-party and ultimately had a good night.
We flew home on Monday, and another friend texted me shortly after I’d landed. I realised she would be finishing work presently, and asked if she wanted to go for a drink. She couldn’t, but reminded me there was a pub quiz on at 9pm, and told me I should join her at that. I wasn’t convinced – it was a long weekend, which started with no sleep and wasn’t particularly restful (a fact, not a complaint). My overwhelming desire was to head home, get some food, and pass out on the couch. She told me she would like me to be there.
I’d asked someone to forgo an evening she wanted to spend relaxing in the hotel so that I could have her company. The very next night, a friend was asking me to forgo a relaxing evening at home so that she could have mine. That’s a pretty definite parallel in my mind, and since I do try to be a good friend, and being very aware that my friend’s presence at the gig had meant a lot to me – again explained in the previous blog – I agreed to reciprocate. I took the world’s longest bus journey, dumped my luggage, changed my boots, grabbed some food and headed back out the door. Tired, but knowing it was the right thing to do.
Thing is, it worked out quite well – we lost the pub quiz (we came second), but did successfully play Beat The Safe. One of our pooled tickets was picked from the hat, and of the two remaining combinations available my friend’s pal blindly picked the right one – winning us the £225 contained within. A three-way split meant we each walked out the pub seventy-five quid better off.
I’m not sure if I believe in karma, or that “what goes around comes around”, but it’s things like this that make me think there might be something in it. I’m going to keep repaying favours.