This is probably my most dubious claim to fame yet, in this series of tenuous links to celebrity, owing to the fact that I have nearly no memory of it and am relying on documentary evidence to know that it happened.
I have recently been clearing out old paperwork, a task long overdue, as became obvious when I uncovered my first ever (and now twenty-year-old) P45. Most of my degree coursework has also headed into the recycling bin, but I have kept a few pieces relating to my current interests, and a handful of souvenirs. One of these is a small collection of theatrical programes listing me in the production credits – I started backstage in amateur dramatics at the age of thirteen, began paid work at seventeen, and studied the subject for three years in my early twenties.
I have looked through this paperwork several times in the past few years, never quite committing to ridding myself of it, partly out of nostalgia and partly because the coursework might yet prove useful for reference. One of the programmes is for a student performance of Liz Lochhead’s version of Medea, a small and low-budget version undertaken at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, my alma mater. While shows for the main stage and the studio theatre were allocated funds and staff to realise lavish set designs, shows in the AGOS (Alexander Gibson Opera Suite) were necessarily minimal in scope. Primarily a venue for recitals, the highly polished wooden floor and complete absence of space backstage meant that scenery could not be used, and it was relatively rare for drama to be staged there.
My role was sound designer and operator, although I also focused lights for the senior student who oversaw that element. We had meetings with the director – and I was sad to learn of his passing, when he died in 2014 – at whose behest, and to help achieve his vision, I recorded the lead actress unleashing primal screams for playback during the show. I might also have recorded the lead actor too, but that is gone from memory now. I still have the minidisc which once contained the finished result, but since replaced it with a different noise, the musical output of my one-time solo electronic project – aptly named AudioTwat.
Above: Still bearing the number of my college pigeonhole, this short-lived but useful media format now contains my electro compositions – which, if you feel particularly masochistic or curious, you can find on Soundcloud.
Reading the programme the other day, the list of names takes me back – although on two separate courses, the technicians and actors were constantly moving in the same circles, with a combined intake of only 50 or 60 people per year. We knew each other at least by sight, usually by name, spent a lot of time together or in the same vicinity, and – in at least one instance – two of my peers who met on the respective courses married and had a child.
I knew a few of the actors to chat to, was acquainted with others, but some were unknown to me – as has become obvious on my re-reading of this programme. One name stuck out this time, a lead played by Alison Brie, whose name I recognised from Twitter in its sharing of her response to the Me Too hashtag and allegations against her brother-in-law, James Franco. Was this the same person? A quick internet search revealed that, yes, it is.
I am largely unfamiliar with her body of work – of it all, I have seen just The Lego Movie, in which only her voice appeared, although Community is a favourite with friends and has long been on my list of things to watch (when the DVD boxset is available for less than £70. I buy DVDs, rarely download things, and never stream them.) Her face seems distantly familiar to me, clouded with time, and igniting a vague recollection of an American called Alison in the Medea cast. It was one of the few shows I did where there was a wider gap between cast and crew.
As sound designer and op, I had no requirement to attend rehearsals and only scheduled to meet with the actors I needed to record. Although I was present at both tech and dress rehearsals, and all public performances, I was located front-of-house – in a soundproof box, high above the seating bank and behind a thick window and a bank of equipment. I know I passed through the cast a few times, and would have said a courteous hello as I went, but – even if there had been wing-space to congregate in, I would have had no reason to be there mingling. In short, maybe I spoke to Alison Brie and maybe I did not, but we definitely shared the same air for a while.
Above: My name is on the same line as Alison Brie’s, by coincidence rather than by design, and that is as close as we have ever been. You can tell I didn’t write this, my middle initials have been omitted – a lifelong bone of contention.
Until this came to light, my chief recollection of that period is that it was the first time in my life that I ever worked alongside another Jordan – “Actor Jordan” as my technician friends knew him – and the new and resultant name confusion made me appreciate how lucky I had been to last so long without a duplicate in the room – unlike the Daves, Andys, Chris’s and Jims of this world.
As regards Ms. Brie, I remember having a few communal discussions over which acting peers we thought would break out and make it big – following alumni such as David Tennant, James McAvoy, Alan Cumming – and the talent of some of my contemporaries impressed me. It is either the unpredictability of these things, or a complete lack of good judgement, that led me to overlook one of the most successful to emerge from that era. I am going to rest my defence on our apparent collaboration occupying just five days of a three-year degree.
Finally, given all of the above, and as my professional worth is dependent on remaining inconspicuous and unnoticed (to which end, I suspect I am probably undermining myself by publishing these blogs, despite my efforts to separate public and private), I sincerely doubt that Ms. Brie has any memory of me. The article below indicates that she does, however, fondly remember the show.
Above: Medea namechecked in an interview published by The Scotsman newspaper last year.
Like so many others, my first introduction to dance pioneers Underworld came with a viewing of the iconic Nineties Scottish film, Trainspotting. If it was not the network television premiere, back when we only had four channels to watch, it was certainly within a year or two of release.
When the newsagent John Menzies had a summer sale, in 2000 or more likely 2001, I picked up two albums on CD for pennies: Air’s 10,000 Hz Legend and Underworld’s Everything Everything. I remember the date of those purchases not because the price reduction was notable (though it was), but because it was the time when this diehard teenaged metalhead began to discover and appreciate electronic music. Everything Everything cost me forty-nine pence, at a time when Menzies were punting new albums for seventeen pounds. For that amount, without knowing what to expect but with their definitive Trainspotting hit ‘Born Slippy’ on the tracklisting, I took the risk. That song was good enough to merit the splurging of half a quid.
It took no time into the first listen to realise that it was a live album, and what an album! Track after track of brilliant, uplifting music, building and releasing and building again, washing over euphoric crowds and taking them with it. I loved it, and sixteen years later I believe it is probably the live album I have listened to most in my life – comfortably eclipsing Iron Maiden’s seminal Live After Death.
With limited internet – by which I mean the internet itself was limited, back when downloading one song took hours and an entire album meant leaving the computer running Napster, Kazaa, or Audiogalaxy overnight – I sought out physical copies of their studio recordings, buying the first two. In 2007, I finally saw Underworld play live, an unforgettable experience in Glasgow’s corporate-sponsored Academy. The concert was recorded and released immediately afterwards for sale on compact disc, an official bootleg of the kind Pearl Jam first offered, as every show on the tour was turned into the best kind of souvenir or the collecting completist’s expensive nightmare. Thankfully, most of them are online now.
I saw Underworld play again in 2010, at the legendary Barrowland, and once more in 2015 – in the interim they scored the opening ceremony of London’s Olympic Games for director Danny Boyle, and their prolonged hiatus drove me to sieze the opportunity and see them at both their London shows in 2016. By this time, I had more live bootlegs than I can listen to in two straight days, and my left forearm has been completely given over to a tattoo inspired by them. Also in 2016, filming began on the sequel to Trainspotting.
The original launched the careers of Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle, heading an ensemble cast who have all enjoyed career success since, and was directed by Danny Boyle. The film reached far beyond its Scottish roots, quotes and music and scenes and marketing artwork all quickly becoming ingrained in popular culture. Any follow-up would be hotly anticipated and have to be confident of adding to the legacy.
As a fan of the film, of the band, and as someone who works in film and television, I joined the long list of people hoping to find work on the return trip. With luck, I found myself employed in the props department for a couple of days.
I do not recall if I signed a non-disclosure agreement or not, but I suspect that I did and I am certainly going to write as though that is the case. I was told that the script was kept locked in a safe, with readings restricted and sometimes supervised – true or not, this one is definitely hotly anticipated.
My role was functional, rather than artistic – emptying lorries, unpacking boxes, tidying stock, moving furniture, cleaning, and so on: a cog in a very big wheel, delighted to be involved in this momentous project. I try not to write much about my professional life. It interests me, but I am wary of being boring or worse, a blowhard. Despite the proximity to famous people, our paths rarely cross, and most of my days are spent preparing things before they arrive or removing them afterwards. That said, in relation to this film, I was secretly thrilled to walk past Sick Boy at one point. Technically I walked past an actor, outside and thirty feet away, but history and association and his bleached hair meant that, to me, I saw Sick Boy.
Where is this self-proclaimed dubious claim to fame? In the studio. Various sets had been built, some completed and filmed in, others in the early stages of construction. To tell you that there was a pub interior and some homes and a nightclub toilet is to give little away. The toilet had seven cubicles, and a floor that was still being laid with rubber tiles. A couple of tilers finished the sinks, and I was instructed to move fixings and hardware to the back of the set – ready for installation – and place toilet pans into the cubicles. From memory, and this will have no bearing on your enjoyment of the movie, there were four white pans, four stainless steel, four white lids, and four black. These would be fixed in position later, once the designer had chosen combinations for the desired look.
That was more or less the last thing I did, to close my second of two shifts. I was happy enough – I worked and reconnected with good people, on something I had for months wanted to be part of, and it paid me. Having been told some of the storyline and how it would relate to the first film, and with all of the main cast and crew back for the second run, I could rejoin the ranks of everyone else waiting to see the result – my existing belief that it will be great now bolstered by the additional insight. I thought no more about it.
Then what happened is, six months down the line, the official trailer came out. It was accompanied by a new teaser poster, depicting the four male leads.
Above: Some time after my involvement had ended. Watch the trailer.
And that, despite my preference to keep these things grounded and relatable, is just about the most dubious claim to fame I could possibly hope for – this image has been seen millions of times, and I put those toilets there. This, ignoring appearances to the contrary, is icing on the cake. The 1996 version of me cannot stop smiling.
I have never owned a set-top box, a freeview box, a digital signal thing, or whatever other gadgets are or were required to watch television in the past ten years. I buy or borrow DVDs to watch, and sometimes download things. The upside is that I save (or rather, do not spend) about £150 a year as I am not required to pay for a licence. The downside is that I miss out on things which all of social media is clearly watching. The most alienated I have felt, in this regard, was last week – when everyone else on the planet watched Germany destroy Brazil seven goals to one.
Similarly, I miss the source of the weekly outpouring of irritation, disbelief, and consternation which Twitter users hash-tag #BBCQT. The BBC’s Question Time seems to incite a lot of indignation, and so in that sense I feel I do not exactly “miss out” on the political discussion show – more that I “do not see” it.
Of course, there are occasional characters who crop up on the panel or in the audience. The eccentric, the ignorant, the misguided, and the plain wrong, all filter through to some degree, thanks in part to their dissemination via YouTube, Vine, and latterly Facebook and Twitter. This week’s unlikely hero, or anti-hero, has been Nigel the pro-union Passionate Highlander. Speaking passionately, thus justifying his own description of himself, he vowed – in the name of Jesus – that we will never change. Change being one of life’s inevitabilities, we will. Even if the No campaign win the referendum (God forbid, since we are now invoking deities), there are aspects to this new political movement which cannot be easily undone. Once you have collectively imagined a better future, it cannot be un-imagined.
That aside, Nigel’s proclamation, “In the name of Jesus,” is phrased identically to a sample used by the band Front 242 in 1988. Their track “Welcome To Paradise” – from the album Front By Front – took various snippets of speech from American Televangelists and incorporated them to great effect. It was relatively easy, as someone for whom that anthem was a gateway into the band’s extensive catalogue, to segue from one to the other. With the slightest of technical know-how, I hastily merged the Question Time footage with the song. With captions quickly typed and assembled, the end result is not the hardest-hitting argument you will hear in favour of Scottish independence. It is, however, light-hearted and true to my strong belief that we will all – Scots and English – benefit from an overwhelming Yes vote.
Here, then, is Nigel the Passionate Highlander accompanied by the Belgian pioneers of Electronic Body Music:
In a move presumably intended to embarrass Scotland on the world stage, “Team Scotland” have taken undue pride in unveiling athletes’ uniforms which will be worn during the forthcoming Commonwealth Games.
Dressed like extras from the set of Brigadoon, had that mythical village been inhabited entirely by the colour-blind, the cruel and unusual punishment of wearing the new outfits was forced onto a handful of the competitors.
“My brief from Team Scotland was to come up with a parade uniform that was high on impact and made a real statement, but also had a contemporary feel,” the designer said, her contemporaries evidently being a tin of shortbread and an outdated notion of a country under Stuart rule. Scotland in 2014 is a progressive, forward-looking nation, on the verge of voting on whether to reclaim its independence and be free from Westminster’s parliament.
This monstrous creation looks like it was accepted by a committee, all of them too polite to reveal their true feelings until – suddenly – they found they had agreed to its production. With luck, they kept the receipt and can return it for a refund.
Inspiration must surely have come on a summer’s day, when the designer vomited into the clear sky and thought, “That’ll work.”
Grimaces, bemusement, and fixed smiles were the order of the day, as illustrated by the photographs above. One can only suppose it is the designer who has come dressed as the Mad Hatter from Alice In Wonderland, since she is the only person who looks genuinely happy to be there. A couple of nurses lead the way, followed by a three-man “stag do” attended by barely-acquainted strangers.
The designer looks inordinately pleased with herself. While it was decent of her to take the blame, it is unfortunate that this public spectacle will be viewed by so many. If there is one positive to be found, it will come at the opening ceremony. With the arrival, on-screen, of several hundred athletes wearing this nonsense, it will be the first time in years that a commentator has had to utter those immortal words, “Please do not adjust your set.”
There have been two versions of the television show “Gladiators” screened in the UK. The first was hugely popular when I was a teenager, and the second was watched by nobody I have ever met. Both versions were based on the original American version which comedian Bill Hicks vilified, seeing it as a way for the government to keep the masses docile.
In the town where I grew up, a large local playing field was the site of an annual fete. I have no idea who organised it, or why, but there was the usual assortment of stalls, tents, displays, and the general family entertainments provided by magicians, jugglers, stilt-walkers and their ilk. The only year I remember going, the main attraction – in ever sense of that word – was a personal appearance by Diane Youdale, known at the time as Jet.
It seems strange in hindsight, that I joined a queue of however many others to catch a glimpse of a “celebrity” who was then a huge hit on national Saturday night television. Despite being a boy of 14 or 15, and thus the perfect age for it, I was one of the few folk I knew who did not have an almighty crush on her. Nevertheless, I stood in line with one or two of my friends, shuffling forward inside the kind of barrier arrangement normally seen in banks, post offices, or at airport security gates. Eventually we made it to the front, to the table at which she sat, and I was rewarded with a signed photograph and a friendly smile.
Thinking in my youth that celebrity meant something, I kept hold of the picture and probably still have it in a box somewhere. It will make a good illustration for this blog when I find it, so check back in five or ten years and see if I have had a clear-out by then. Jet, incidentally, is now a psychotherapist – as well as being the desired host of a proposed Alan Partridge programme.
My second encounter with a television Gladiator happened while I was doing some secondary work for my brother-in-law, who is a plumber to trade. He hired me for a few days when he needed a hand, and it emerged that the householder was in the show – which (true to my opening statement) neither of us had watched. She was extremely nice, and in the interest of maintaining her privacy I am not going into much detail. Her given title was Battleaxe., but she could not have been further from the traditional and insulting definition of that word.
While employed to work for her, a few jokes and turns of phrase sprang to mind – some in conversation, some while completing the tasks in hand. Within a couple of days I had a fully-formed routine which would slot straight into my stand-up set, comedy once being a hobby of mine. Grounded in fact, a little exaggeration or embellishment led to one of my favourite “bits” and one which almost always went down well with audiences. I am not a pro-active joke writer, and I take my inspiration where I find it. Given that it was the only time in my life I did any plumbing, it was fortuitous. Timing, as they say, is everything. Below is the material I came up with.
My brother-in-law is a plumber, and we recently did a job for one of TV’s Gladiators. Not one of the cool ones you’d have heard of, but from the new version which nobody’s seen.
So whereas in the old version it was “Can you feel the power of the Gladiators?” this was more “Can you fix the shower, and the radiators.”
I said “Where’s your boiler?” and she said “It’s up there.” I looked, and it was up a Travellator and across some monkeybars.
I said “What’s the access like?” She said “You just have to run the Gauntlet, and get past Wolf.”
John Anderson was there too. He said “Plumber, you will go on my first whistle. Gladiator, you will go on my second whistle.”
I don’t know if you have ever fixed a boiler while you are on a pedestal being hit with a pugil stick, but it’s not easy.
They hire professional athletes and it turned out this girl was an Olympic hammer-thrower, and she holds the record for the longest throw in Scotland.
It was my fucking hammer she threw. “I was using that!”
Took me a week to go and get it back.
I was glad she was a nice lassie though. See when I was at school, if the bullies took your bag off you they’d throw it over a wall or over a fence. If she took your bag off you it’d be [miming spinning a bag round head, like a hammer thrower, then letting go] Fuck ye! Off to France, going “Je voudrais ma bag back, s’il-vous-plait.”
[In reference to the mohawk I had] I reckon if I was a Gladiator they’d call me Nutjob. But then, that’s probably why there’s no Glaswegian Gladiators. “Contender, you will face Nutjob, Heidcase, Jakey, and Bam.”
Four big guys standing there going [arms folded, menacing] “What you wearing padding for, ya fuckin’ poof?”
Of the feedback I received after my various unpaid gigs, that piece was singled out for praise on a few occasions. I like it, and principally I write for myself and to hopefully be entertaining. So, if other people enjoy it I am happy. Here is some old and early footage of me nervously performing it while trying to stay within my strict five-minute spot on stage in Glasgow:
I did this material a lot, and eventually I gigged with somebody whose opening line addressed mine. He had written for the second series of the new season. In my defence, I was thirty that year, and cannot be blamed for no longer watching the same programmes that were required viewing when I was half that age. The fact that the most recent version was granted a second series means it must have had an audience. As every comedian knows or learns though, facts are not necessarily funny. Often they are just facts.
I kept my opening line as it was – nobody before or since has ever corrected it, which says as much about the viewing habits of the folk I have played to as it does about anything else.
A major international soft drink manufacturer has recently begun emblazoning common first names on containers of their main products. I am unwilling to name the company in question, as I do not believe in giving most brands any undue mention that may help further embed their names in the public conscious. I am also certain that you can imagine who I refer to, given my opening sentence. They are not known for scrimping on their advertising or sponsorship budgets.
It is probably a shrewd move on their part to personalise bottles, leading people to seek out specific names and perhaps buy something they would otherwise not have purchased. I detest advertising and marketing though, and the dedicated psychologies that target consumers in attempts to sell us things we do not need and that do not benefit us. I make a deliberate effort to try and remain unsusceptible, as far as possible, while being aware of the power of suggestion. I despise commercials that are designed to tempt us by asking “why not try…?” or telling me to “go on,” “treat myself,” or that I “am worth it.” Use of these and similar phrases is a sure-fire way to make me boycott whatever service or product you are hawking.
In the supermarket recently, I noticed a display of these canned soft drinks. Rather than being aimed at one person, as the individual bottles are, the multipacks are for sharing with “friends” or “family”, something about “summer”, and the one that caught my attention – “everyone.”
It is not clear to me how it can be possible to share twelve cans with “everyone.” One possible explanation is that this multinational corporation has now developed such a messianic view of itself that it believes that its primary carbonated output is akin to five loaves and two fish. Even Jesus only managed to feed five thousand in that way, considerably less than the current population of the world which could generally be considered to constitute “everyone.” With approximately seven billion people on earth, most are going to get barely a sniff from this particular pack size.
Another possibility is that a dozen people is indeed everyone. Given that there are no provisos, such as “everyone at your party” or “everyone in the meeting,” perhaps this design was accidentally released for sale early, being intended to go out after the nuclear holocaust/flooding/mutated superbug decimated our human number down to barely double figures. If this is the case, then how could the manufacturer know just how many survivors would be left? Conspiracy theorists, you can have some fun here if you wish.
A more realistic slogan would be to advocate sharing beverages with The Dirty Dozen, or with 12 Angry Men. You could try giving them to the days of Christmas, or to the Christian apostles. If you were so inclined, you could have one and spread the rest around every member of your favourite football team. Alternatively, they could have stopped short of quantifying who you should share it with, as it seems they have grossly underestimated how many of us there are.
When I ran the above observation past a friend, she envisaged a far different scenario – that you would share this liquid by opening a pack and distributing the contents freely to other shoppers around you. I much prefer this idea, taking the caption at face value and immediately presenting passers-by with tins as instructed. It would be similar to the experiment conducted in the brilliant pop-culture Adam And Joe Show of the late nineties, when they helped themselves to the free percentages of promotionally-marked items.
In response to this global supplier’s current strategy of printing different names on their bottles, the makers of Scotland’s homegrown and most popular soft drink adopted the idea with tongue firmly in cheek. Tying in to their own current advertising campaign, they printed up several thousand limited-edition bottles with the girls name Fanny. As well as being an outdated forename, the term is an everyday slang name for the female genitals and – therefore – also used as a (relatively mild) insult, often between friends and on a par with eejit or numpty. Ya mad fanny.
They also produced bottles named Tam, Rab, and Senga – the first two being very common Scots versions of Tom and Rob, and the third being a ubiquitous though now largely under-used girls name.
Given the dual meaning of “fanny,” it is easy to derive risque or vulgar humour from it. For instance, with reference to the photo below, it can be said that it is wet and it tastes good; it is best enjoyed when it is wet on the inside; some guys see it and lose their bottle; nothing wrong with a bit of fanny juice. You can probably come up with your own too, and by placing two bottles together you can refer to them colloquially as “a pair of fannies.”
I do hate advertising, and yet I have a wee soft spot for a local, highly successful business whose ad campaigns are famously risky, cheeky, bold, funny, innovative, silly, memorable, definitely Scottish, parodical, and genuinely entertaining. It makes them a lot more tolerable.
Having found ourselves in a stranger’s flat, drinking after a night in a club, a good friend and I had an experience that we still recall vividly.
She had been dancing with a guy who removed any fear or intimidation by immediately assuring her that he was gay. Once the club shut, he and his two pals invited her to join them back at his flat in the southside. With the promise of further alcohol, and unwilling to go home for the reasons explained in part one (linked to above, and password-protected until my friend approves its publication), she was enticed into a black hack with them – grabbing my hand and taking me with her.
We sat in this high-rise flat, drinking and chatting, laughing and ignoring the large number of insistent phonecalls that she kept getting. It transpired that her new gay chum was not, as such, gay. This was just the simplest way he had found to get someone to dance with him, in the dancefloor absence of his friends and knowing that the majority of girls would see such a request as an unwanted come-on.
We learned that he had been born a she, addressing his disaffection with the sexual organs of his birth by having his gender clinically reassigned. He was quite nonchalant with this information, given that we had only met an hour or two previously, but my friend and I are both open-minded enough to accept it at face value. Our background is also in art and theatre, creative industries known for their many “alternative lifestyles,” and we had happened to study alongside someone who had undergone the same transition – so very little shocks us in that regard. We are no Richard Littlejohns, sympathising yet simultaneously condemning, being supportive while instigating provisos. Personally, with regard to alternative lifestyles, I would suggest that the only truly “alternative” life-style is death.
I subscribe fully to the mantra posited by Bill Hicks, making his final point. He summed up perfectly how I feel about personal freedom, life choices, censorship, and the nature of offence.
Our host talked us through the physics, or perhaps the biology, of his new appendage. I forget the particulars now, although I think it involved removing skin from other areas and sculpting something which he had a say in the size and shape of. He had a girlfriend, who wasn’t around that evening, and she would assist him with the physical and literal pumping-up of said member, creating something that was rigid enough for her to get pleasure from.
The mechanics of it, explained quite fully and graphically at the time, are now hazy with the passing of time and the consumption of alcohol that night (and, indeed, morning.) I am certain that you can find out more about the procedure if you wish, the internet being a valuable resource for all manner of information and photographs (medical and otherwise.) He had had the operation done on the NHS, the surgery costing something in the region of sixty-four-thousand pounds. It may have been slightly more than that, but it would be too convenient in the context of sexuality to suggest that it had cost “sixty-nine” thousand, and so I have used the figure 64,000 for its appearance in popular culture.
Having fully described the whys, wherefores, and workings of his amended genitalia, the next logical step was to enquire if we wanted to see it. I got the impression that it was a rhetorical question, and cannot now guarantee that he actually waited for my friend to answer in the affirmative before – in modern parlance – whipping it out. Being the only female in the room, perhaps he felt (or hoped) that it would hold some greater interest for her. Being male and thoroughly heterosexual, for me there was (to quote Chic Murray‘s comment about the far more mundane occurrence of a surgery door opening) no novelty to it.
And yet, there kind of was. Purely from a curiosity standpoint, of wondering what a £64,000 penis looked like. I was unlikely to ever get a second chance to glance such a thing and, while I would never have asked to see it, here it was being thrust into my line of sight. My friend was nearer than I, and she got the better look – my view was partially obscured, and I was not sufficiently interested to get out of my seat and walk over to examine it in any great detail. Even she resisted the invitation to grasp it. I will say this, though – from what little I saw of his sixty-four-grand penis (which was actually quite a lot, considering), he definitely got his money’s worth.
I have not seen that guy since, and am not even sure that I would recognise him again, but it was a memorable night and another unique bonding experience in what is one of my closest friendships. The very existence of this blog is due to events like this – situations which naturally progress and make perfect sense at the time, but of which hindsight sees only the absurd culmination and demands the question “how the fuck did that happen?”
Half the time I do not know, even when I remember precisely the steps involved, but it reassures me that at least I am not living an entirely boring life.
I went into my bank today. I had to go into my bank, as it was not possible for me to withdraw the low remaining sum from an ATM.
I cannot be the only person who has noticed an increase in the level of overly-friendly “customer service” provided by the counter staff, and how it is directly proportional to the financial mess that the banks have left the entire country in. I do not want to be engaged in this transparent distraction technique by some excessively-polite, smiley do-gooder. This is a business transaction, not a social interaction. I do not want you to try and be my pal.
It began with the blonde woman marching up and down the queue of four people, enquiring if we are “just paying in?” I am not sure how much time it would really save, in such a small queue, to be directed to the faster-payments thing. At least it is keeping her in a job, even if it does mean that I have to reveal the nature of my business in such a way that the earywigging people around me become aware of private details. I resent that. If she would just hold her horses, the reason for my presence would be made quietly known to the teller.
As bad luck would have it, I was called to one of the two tellers at the low desks. I was not really in need of a seat, and having to sit down when making the quickest of withdrawals is an unwelcome chore. I aim to be in such unpleasant places for the briefest amount of time, and needing to sit in order to be at eye level feels like they have added an element of captivity, not comfort. Worse still, the teller had evidently been a model student in his customer-facing training. He wanted to know if I was having a good day.
If this question felt in any way sincere or unscripted, I would be less annoyed by the persistence with which their staff always ask it. Instead, I find it to be intrusive – it is no concern of any stranger’s whether I am having a good day, a bad day, or an indescribably mediocre day. It has no bearing on whichever of my affairs I am in the process of conducting.
Bank staff are singularly bad for this. I will happily converse with the checkout staff in my local supermarket, with the conductor on the train, or the ticket office staff, and with just about anybody else who conveys any genuine warmth during the course of our encounter. By way of example, my supermarket staff unfailingly ask me if I “need any help with packing?” I always reply in the negative, and if I am in a reasonable mood I jokingly add “but you can help me pay if you like.” This usually elicits a smile and, more than that, everybody declines with good humour but in a different way. My point being that I am not above a casual conversation and a smile, provided there is some human depth to it. The banks, perhaps to nobody’s surprise given the crisis they created, lack humanity.
I find myself, then, entering into terse and largely one-sided dialogues with courteous but target-focussed individuals, whose individualism is denied them by their corporate masters and by the script they have rote-learned and from which they must not stray. If they thought about what they were asking, then they might stop and ask something else instead – something relevant, something less personal, or something that did not immediately lend itself to having its stupidity highlighted.
“Are you having a good day?” I was asked.
“So-so,” I replied.
“Could be better?”
By definition, if my day can be described as so-so then yes, it could be better. I neglected to point this out, instead telling him matter-of-factly:
“Better if I wasn’t taking out the last of my money.”
“Okay,” he said without listening, checking the balance of my account. “You have nine pounds thirty.” He began counting it out, continuing the line of questioning.
“Are you up to much today?”
Drily, I answered “Not with nine pounds thirty.”
He smiled. It was the smile of a man satisfied that he has done as his job requires of him. It was a smile that did not belie any indication that he had appreciated my attempt at injecting a little bonhomie into his day. Perhaps the possession of a sense of humour is seen as subversive. They trained him on which questions to ask, but not in how to respond adequately to the answers.
There is very little that is more awkward than your boss, who is roughly ages with you, trying to communicate to a roomful of employees but becoming stuck between talking on their level, and being aware of the environment and of the expectations of his corporate masters.
While twenty of us sat around the edges of this call-centre classroom one afternoon, our speaker tried to best illustrate a particular point with a modern phrase known to us all. He failed to fully commit to its use, however, and trailed off after saying “Bros before…” – the missing final word being “Hos.” It was never clear quite how this American frat-boy mantra, which advocates prioritising guy friends over girlfriends, was relevant to the customer service emails we were being taught to compose and send.
I can, at least, understand why – at each mention – the boss began the statement and then bailed with the words “I won’t finish that sentence.” I think, and hope, that he was shying away from using the derogatory term “ho”, short for “whore” or – as it was phonetically written on the graffitied walls of my secondary school – “hooer.” Though perhaps he is just staunchly against the further Americanisation of Scottish culture.
During the course of the informal tutorial, several of my co-workers used the phrase too, all of them stopping short of completing it. I decided that it was time to derive some humour from it, since the word play is – at least, I thought – obvious. One of the girls quoted the saying, and by this time it was a running joke that you would only give voice to the first two words. Deadpan, I asked my question to the room at large:
“What is it about that particular garden implement that means you can’t say it??”
There was a pause, as the pun registered with almost everyone in the room, leading to laughter. The only person not laughing was the person who had last expressed the term.
“I don’t get it,” she said.
“Garden implements,” the boss explained, smiling. Her blank stare was met with further explanation. “Hoes.”
“Oh!” She exclaimed. “I thought you meant like a trowel or something.”
“Yeah,” I said, matter-of-factly inserting that in place of the omitted word. “Bros before trowels.”
We had been taken on as temporary staff. They kept her on, they let me go.
The Two Ronnies, and some confusion over “hoes” – starts at 2m 18s.