Dear Mark Ross, Chief Executive,
Thank you for sending me some kind of in-house magazine by post. I note in your introduction that, as a company, you value my feedback. Please spare me the effort of recycling magazines I will not read by not sending any more of them.
I had no intention of using your company, and only had my eyes tested at Black & Lizars by mistake. There is another optician next door to the branch I called into, and on the day I opted to make an appointment I only walked as far as the first opticians I came to, knowing I was in the right locale of the smaller company I wished to give my business to.
I do realise that this has overtones of the very old joke: “I need my eyes tested” “You certainly do, this is a butchers.” However, it is also true. Not expecting that there would be two practitioners in such close proximity, I arranged to have my eyes checked in the wrong one.
Your staff were, at first, welcoming. I noticed a small trophy displayed by the window, which stated that they had won a “best Black & Lizars award” from Black & Lizars. Who knows how an outside agency may think of them? Anyway, I had no initial complaint. The receptionist and the woman who tested my vision were both professional and pleasant. It was all very civilised.
My eyes have served me well. In my early school years I was prescribed, and rarely wore because I knew best, a pair of glasses most accurately described as “Clark Kent specs.” Since then, my sight has been fine – once even described as perfect – until recently. My suspicions were correct and, I was informed, I would benefit from wearing glasses at certain times. Those times related to specific tasks, you understand – it is not as if I was advised to don a pair of spectacles every day at, say, five past noon.
I was shown back to the waiting area which also serves as the main body of your shop, and told to discuss the recommendation with another of your staff members. She launched into her sales pitch, and seemed caught off-guard when I began asking simple questions like “how much is this going to cost me?” and “how does this work?” I appreciate that she sells frames every day and it will be second nature, but if this is the first time in your adult life that you have required a pair, the process is alien. She did not explain it particularly well, and definitely not in what could broadly be described as “layman’s terms.”
Furthermore, I felt the oxygen levels in the room shrink with her intake of breath when money was mentioned. It changed the atmosphere so fully it reminded me of – well, have you ever been in a chip shop on Sauchiehall Street at 3.30am on a Saturday night? It does not matter how happy that post-club queue of drunks is, lined up waiting to be fed, all it takes to make it unbearably tense is one arsehole walking up and down asking everyone “Rangers or Celtic?” Now, there is a rapid change in bonhomie equivalent to that witnessed when I dared to enquire about cost.
I freelance, which means I have to budget tightly as sometimes I have cash on the hip and sometimes I do not. I had no pressing need to explain this, it being my private business, and I was already annoyed and embarrassed that your staff member’s condescension was being brought to bear in front of other customers. With the action of a person I can only refer to as a snooty bastard, she held aloft the eyedrops it had been suggested I use. Revealing them and holding them forth like the prize in a second-rate television gameshow, these were, she said, a mere six pounds. Again, I had to squirm in my seat and meekly tell her that, at that moment in time, that too was out of my reach.
Maybe she is one of those secret millionaires, but that should not stop the display of something comparable to empathy, understanding, or tact. Having now been condemned – to some degree publicly – as a Poor Person, she could not chase me out the shop fast enough.
When work picked up, guess where I bought the glasses I am wearing as I type this? That is correct, one of your rivals – a rival who, wholly aware of the competition, even advises in their well-known marketing slogan that I “should have gone” there.
I went in and stated outright that I had no idea what is involved, and was helpfully guided through the selection of frames available. While this felt a little rushed, I already had a rough idea of what I wanted. With zero interest in fashion, and no real sense of vanity, I just needed something functional. My only stipulations were that I needed something which would keep the lenses positioned in front of my eyes, to save me holding them there, and that I had no desire to wear anything that may have previously been seen accessorising Dennis Taylor.
What a friendly and painless process that turned out to be. I was very happy with the service provided – perhaps you could send some of your haughtier staff there, to learn how to retain customers rather than ensuring they will never return.
In short, I request that you save your money and your postage, and refrain from sending me any further junk in the mail. The attitude of that one woman has permanently lost you a customer.
I walk a lot, and think nothing of it. I would like to say that this is indicative of a healthy lifestyle, but it is just something that was instilled in my nature a long time ago.
I grew up in a residential area, an area not served by public transport. Due to its relative proximity to the town centre, a walk from my childhood home to the nearest bus stop was, in effect, a walk to where I would want a bus to take me. The two primary schools I attended were similarly located, and my secondary school was not much further away. I had a bicycle for going longer distances – my friend’s bit at the top of the town; the local parks – but I made a two-mile round trip to school every day, by foot and whatever the weather. As a teenager, if I wanted to go somewhere, I walked.
When I moved to Glasgow, my first flat was situated at Charing Cross. This busy city intersection, where several motorway junctions converge with Argyle Street, Sauchiehall Street, and Great Western Road, was not well-served by public transport either. From the front door of my close, the nearest bus stop was at least halfway in the direction of where I wanted to be. Given the congestion, and our notorious one-way streets, I found that I could easily cross the city quicker than the average bus. While a double-decker bound for my destination idled at yet another set of traffic lights, I would be cutting down side streets and darting across junctions, making good time despite the weight of an extra couple of quid in my pocket – coins unspent on a fare.
As I came to know the layout of my adoptive hometown, I realised that everything is near everything else – if not geographically then psychologically. Aided by the grid system of the city centre, I quickly discovered that there are a dozen different routes to a given place, and it is remarkably easy to work out in which direction you are heading. I love this city (and its people) and, as much as I despise living in the UK, I cannot envisage living anywhere else. Part of my loathing for shopping malls stems from this desire to roam freely – I resent being herded along a single, congested thoroughfare.
Now that I live four miles from the centre of Glasgow, I still regularly make my way home on foot. One of my friends sees this constant walking as me seeking solitude, creating a space where I allow my thoughts to breathe, and this observation is astute of him. The road I walk, literally and not figuratively, is largely straight. Despite the distance, this makes it seem closer than it is – closer still if I have the partial company of someone who lives on the route. It is this last stretch, once we have gone our separate ways, and often in the early hours of the morning, where my plans formulate. The stillness of the night is remarkable, in stark contrast to the noise of four lanes of jammed and stationary vehicles which will congregate there a few hours later.
Whether I walk to think, or think because I am walking, it is a useful way to sort the notions and ideas in my head. Many is the one-liner or wee story that has come from this quiet time, or from an encounter just prior to it. Scenarios suggest or present themselves, and I twist them until I find the perfect way to express them – as a sentence, as a set of jokes that build, or as an entry on this site.
Earlier this year, at the West End festival, we followed it into and out of Kelvingrove Park. The park has a number of entrances, leading onto at least four main roads, and as the crowd dispersed a disoriented chap next to me stopped to get his bearings. “Whit street’s this?” he asked, as I passed, before working out which direction he needed to go in.
This incident came to mind late last week, when I went for a wander along the canal that is beside my home. I knew there was a path from it to the Botanic Gardens, but had never successfully found it. Although starting aimlessly, I took a turn off the towpath as idle curiosity drove me to seek it out. Taking this unknown route, passing through avenues of trees and diverting past some high flats, before negotiating down to and following the river, it would be easy to lose track of your position. I did not fear becoming lost, confident that I could always retrace my steps, but I imagined an exchange with the adroit wit of a typical, though non-existent, Glaswegian. We meet as we are walking in opposite directions along the canal, with me trying to find my way to this park.
“If I keep walking in this direction, where will I get to?”
if i was still doing stand-up comedy, I might have used this or transformed it into something else. Instead, it went unwritten. At the weekend, I came to relate all of this in conversation – an acquaintance asking:
“Which canal, the Forth and Clyde Canal?”
“Then it would take you to the Forth, or to the Clyde.”
“Oh yeah. It was well-named.”
You would still get to the coast, you would just come to a tidal river first.
Had I turned this into a tall story, I would now have a second or possibly even third laughter point in it. I yet might. I did, however, chance upon the correct turn-off – my walk along the waterway cleared my head, gave me a new joke, and the idea for this blog, and enhanced my knowledge of the local area. Compare that to the constant stop-start of smelly buses, noisily polluted by modern technology, arguing neds, crying children, and accompanied by the sounds of unnecessary air conditioning and a loudly-throbbing engine.
Buses can go fuck themselves. There is a more serene and scenic way to travel – foot.
I took this photo in the store of a high-street “beauty and health retailer,” on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. It was my friend who first noticed the display, as she walked past, and thanks to the evolution of digital technology I was able to capture the image for posterity.
You will see from the shop’s section heading that these are the things women just can’t live without…
Either that, or I took an opportune moment to take a photo of something that amused me.
A few years ago, I was working backstage on a pantomime – in line with my profession – and there was a company night out on Sauchiehall Street.
Drinking in a long, narrow bar somewhere opposite The Garage (or The Gay-Rage, as it is known colloquially), I saw the coolest guy I think I have ever encountered. He was chatting to (rather than chatting up) every girl in the place, making his way from high table to high table, drunk and a bit cheeky, but not lewd, and more entertaining than annoying. He was doing this much to the chagrin of one woman in particular, and from watching them it was obvious that they were, or had recently been, in some form of relationship. She was incensed, and he didn’t care.
As he made his way further into the bar, stopping by the ever-glamorous dancers at our table, you could see the machinations in this girl’s head, as she looked at him, looked at the empty glasses on the bar in this relatively quiet pub, and back to him. It didn’t take a genius to work out where this was heading, and – not being a genius – I foresaw it.
He was at the table next to ours, the second last in the pub, standing with his back to the door. There were two girls sitting at the table facing each other, and he was standing talking to them. They were humouring him, not enamoured by his presence but not giving him what could best be termed “fuck off ” vibes either.
She picked up an empty Stella glass (that brand, naturally), and advanced upon him. There were only a couple of us watching her, and I saw her turn the glass sideways in her hand before smashing it lengthways over the back of his head. Everyone turned to look, she stormed out the whole length of the bar and disappeared. His momentary shock at the impact lasted mere seconds, before he apologised profusely to both girls while brushing glass off his shoulders like it was transparent dandruff shards.
In front of the whole bar, he walked all the way to the glass door, lit up a cigarette, then stood outside the window smoking it, his back in full view of everyone watching.
It was the most pathetic attempt at glassing I’ve seen, designed to make a noise and a point rather than draw blood, and the coolest possible reaction I could ever have imagined: dust yourself off, apologise, and have a smoke.
This city is crazy, but I love it.
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.