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.”
I write occasionally about my friend who lives next door to me. We are very close, a fact physically represented by our respective front doors being only a metre apart. People have noted that we act like a married couple, and there is some merit to that – we love each other, we argue regularly, and there is no sex. When I asked if she was happy with that statement she said, “No, I hate you,” which I think sums it up well.
She popped in to see me today, and when she went home she thought she could smell gas in her hall. I crossed over our thresholds to check, initially not picking up on it. Eventually the odour hit me, and she insisted that we call the emergency helpline. I read the number off her meter, she dialled and then handed me the phone. I explained the issue to the operator, who asked me a series of basic questions before agreeing to send an engineer out. She provided safety instructions, and I listened as I walked from the living room into the bathroom – where the meter is located.
I obeyed the woman’s command, cutting the supply by giving the handle on the pipe a quarter-turn. As I pulled it from the vertical to the horizontal, my friend appeared in the hallway before me. “Don’t turn on any lights or use any switches” the call handler said into my ear, at the precise second when my friend switched the overhead light on. Timing, as they say, is everything. As I tried in vain to prevent the action, by making a cut-throat gesture, she instinctively and immediately turned the light off again.
I went home, and the gas van arrived quickly. The way it was reported on Facebook, “Scottish Gas guys arrived, checked my gas meter and said: “Girl. Glad you phoned us, cos you would probably die overnight from gas poisoning!! There was a serious gas leak.”
She texted me to say they were changing the meter, adding “that’s why I couldn’t breathe properly and my stomach hurt for a couple of days.” This was news to me, and I remembered that there is a carbon monoxide detector in the bedroom beside her boiler. I had looked at the boiler when I went in, but neglected to check the alarm. It is a safety device I have meant to buy for my own flat, and never quite got round to.
“Did the gas alarm in your bedroom not go off?” I asked.
She checked it. “The light changes from green to red. I had red for a few days, but I ignored that.”
Sometimes she terrifies me. She elaborated “I thought it must be like that,” adding further “but I was being sick every day, and my stomach hurt at night, and the breathing difficulties – now I know why!”
We had spoken today about her possibly leaving Glasgow. I am in no way ready for her to permanently leave the world.
The consensus online is that gas is dodgy, and any hint of a smell should be investigated and reported. This evening, especially, I am happy that she insisted on notifying the authority. Once the seriousness had passed, humour took over. One of my comedy acquaintances publicly admired her “strive for efficiency” in trying to blow the whole street up, and not just me.
She replied – in a way you would understand if you knew her – by saying that she enjoys group sex, and group death too. This incident happened to coincide with the gas main being replaced over the road, and it was nearly the perfect crime – they would have blamed the workmen.
Tonight, online, I bought a carbon monoxide detector and two smoke alarms. I like to feel I have learned something from this experience, besides having my nerves shaken when I read the Gas Safe information about poisoning symptoms and fatalities. It is disconcerting to know that someone I care so deeply about has been breathing in toxic fumes for a few days.
She always claims to be unlucky, and I will now forever disagree. Borrowing her trademark phrase of “face>desk”, the only real method of taking the edge off was to make further light of the situation. There is no other way. I doubt we were poised to annihilate ourselves in an explosion, but it is generally best to avoid inhaling noxious vapours for any length of time. At the risk of coming across all Michael Buerk in the 1990s emergency re-enactment series 999, it does not cost much to protect yourself.
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.
Two weeks ago, a couple of guys from the water board chapped my door and asked me to check if my cold water was running.
There has been an issue with the pressure in my tenement, and they were trying to ascertain – not for the first time – if the boundary stopcock outside the close entrance was affecting supply when they turned it. On that occasion, it was not. I still had water coming from my taps – in truth, the best place to have water coming from when it is in your home.
The guys thanked me and, as I left some minutes later to go about my day’s business, I passed them spraypainting around the metal plate on the ground outside. I thought no more about it.
On the other side of the street, a digging crew has appeared recently and begun laying a new gas main. I surmise it to be a gas job on account of the size and length of trench they have dug, and due to the large yellow plastic piping that is on site. Their workspace is cordoned off using orange and white striped barriers. Last week, an unmarked white works van pulled up outside my front window and offloaded half a dozen blue plastic barriers and a couple of temporary traffic signs. I was curious to know what was going on, having received no notification of work to be carried out in the vicinity.
I presumed it to be preparation by Scottish Water, given that they had marked the ground, due to the different type of barrier and the quantity left, and because the crew working over the road are – well, working over the road. It made no sense for them to mark out a second site while tied up with the first, the replacement of the main clearly some way from being completed.
If water maintenance was required, it would mean erecting barriers that would severely impede access into this building. If I was also going to lose my supply, I would like to know when and for how long, which I do not think is an unreasonable request. Shortly after the equipment was delivered, I called Scottish Water.
“Are you about to dig up the pavement right outside the front door?”
The girl checked her computer. “No, the only work in that street is for gas. Phone the Scottish Gas Network.”
I thanked her and called them.
“Are you about to dig up the pavement right outside the front door?”
“No, that’s not us, we’re working over the road. Try Scottish Water.”
I called Scottish Water a second time. I explained, again, why I initially thought it was them and why my call to the Gas Network confirmed my suspicions. The girl this time checked another system available to her.
“Oh yeah, it is us.”
“Am I going to lose my water supply, and if so, when?”
“We usually put letters through before we start work.”
“And you usually don’t drop barriers at a site until you’re ready to start work.”
“I’ll see if someone can phone you back.”
“Try that, but I’m not convinced they’ll be able to work the buttons.”
I posted the above summation of two hours of conversations onto social media. A friend revealed she works for the water company, and informed me that these days many works can be done without switching the water off. When I gave her more detail she provided an in-depth explanation. I was grateful for that, because Scottish Water never did return my call. The pavement was dug up the next day, after I had gone out, the disruption not affecting me personally as the job was done by the time I came home. Considering they were replacing a communication pipe, their own communication was sorely lacking.
Full credit to the Scottish Gas Network though. They had an engineer contact me promptly, from an unblocked mobile number, to say that the barriers were not theirs but that they would be working on my side of the street at a later date. On my side it will only be a partial replacement, and he did not have details to hand about whether that will involve loss of service. As promised, he did then check the blueprints the next morning and left me a voicemail (and his direct contact number to field any questions) to say that this future work will not involve my tenement or the two east of it.
It is not difficult, in this technological age, to share information effectively or communicate easily. Too many large corporations have yet to master it.
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.
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.