Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

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Railing Against Scotrail, Who Fail Scots

There are many reasons why I despise local rail operator Scotrail, this is only the most recent.

I freelance, and am booked for work on a day-to-day basis. Due to a colleague’s injury, I have just picked up ten consecutive days covering his shifts, and the thought of relying on public transport for the duration does not appeal. I wracked my brain trying to think of any option that would provide me with a car at zero notice.

The army truck my sometime-boss owns, which I drove four-hundred miles for him, is stationed in Glasgow’s outskirts – I thought the hurdle would be finding secure parking for it outside my home, but I quickly learned that (although taxed and insured) the MOT is out of date and so I am unable to borrow it. My current work owns cars but they are on private land, and while I have just been insured to drive for them, the pool cars are untaxed. My brother-in-law has bought a second van for his apprentice, but in the course of past discussions it transpired its MOT is up too, and if has since passed then it will be so that the apprentice can use it daily. I considered the expense of hiring a car for the week, weighing the cost against the convenience and the fact I am earning – this plan was quickly shot down today when a phone call confirmed that I need to put a four-figure deposit on my credit card in advance: my immovable credit limit is half or a third of what they all require and, due to tedious past financial issues arising from not always having work to go to, there is absolutely no way for me to acquire a card from any other provider. It would appear the train is my only option.

This morning, departing before the ticket office opened, I tried to buy a weekly ticket on the train. The conductor told me I would need photographic identification, which is fine as I keep my driving licence in the wallet I take everywhere, but he clarified that what I actually require is a passport photo of myself to be used to create their document. That, unsurprisingly, is not something I habitually carry. I asked him to waive the fare, with the intention of buying a pass at the destination station, and he said there was no way that was happening. Trying another tack, I asked if I could have my purchase of a return ticket refunded in the office when buying my pass – this, I was told, would be at the discretion of that staff member.

Arriving in Dumbarton, I went straight to the manned booth and made the same enquiry, also gathering pricing information to allow me to make a comparison and check the potential saving. This very helpful gentleman talked me through the options, gave me the required card and talked me through how to attach a photo using the transparent self-sealing plastic to make it valid. He advised that it need not be a strict passport photo, in the sense of what is required by international customs, just that size. naturally, of course, there is no photo machine at the station and it is in an industrial area. I thanked him and left, frustrated that I had not known this yesterday when the full Art Department was in – I could have sent one of them a photo from my phone to print out for me.

The day progressed, my mind whirring as I figured out my options. On arrival at my home station, I nipped into the office and asked when they close tonight – one of the issues is that I am leaving every morning before the station staff begin their shifts, making it impossible to make the purchase ahead of boarding. The rather upbeat woman informed me, and we discussed the possible nearby locations of places (such as the supermarket) which may have a photo kiosk. Making a slight detour to check this out, I was suddenly struck by the recollection that it could be any photograph of the correct size, and the simultaneous realisation that I have several 6″x4″s at home showing me with one or other or both of my nieces. I quickened my pace.

I burst through my front door, digging through all available images – not wishing to butcher any nice ones, but in the end only finding one suitable. I tore open drawers to retrieve my scalpel, steel rule, and cutting mat, and reached for a fine-nibbed permanent marker. Taking the dimensions from the blank pass I had been handed earlier, I trimmed and attached my likeness then hurried straight back out – to find a sign in the window of the office saying that the staff member was indisposed elsewhere and that tickets should be bought on the train. I could see her in the back room, however, and she eventually came out to speak to me. I had been buoyed on my journey back, having overcome the problem and decided that, combined with her geniality, I would buy the pass and ask her to do me a kindness and refund me the return I had had to pay for today. This was a fine theory, but I had overlooked one thing.

Building on our rapport, we looked at the possibilities and viability for the seven-day pass. It could start from today, or from tomorrow, and what would suit me better? I explained the employment situation, and enquired if validity from today would permit me the return of money already outlaid for travel – oh! How the mask slipped. No way, not as a favour or as a niceness, she would have her “knuckles rapped” if she were to do that for me. However, now I was in possession of the correct card with its image of my likeness, I will be able to buy the weekly pass on board tomorrow morning. I asked if she was certain, since I had (it seems) already been lied to by one employee today – about staff discretion being any sort of factor. This was confirmed, but she offered to sell me it there and then as I was deciding whether to obtain it at that moment or in the carriage in the morning, and was unable to understand my reluctance – until I revealed my thinking: if I do not see a conductor on my way in, I do not need to pay to travel. Her demeanour changed instantly, “Oh well, if that’s the route you want to go down.” It was clear the conversation was finished, and I realised my key oversight – Scotrail are cunts.

I had my Twitter account permanently suspended for calling Scotrail cunts, in partial jest after I banged my head, due to terms and conditions which that social media Hell-site alleged I had breached – there was absolutely nothing in that statement contravening the terms and conditions they quoted at me, but they nevertheless refused to reinstate my account. I should still have the screengrab somewhere, to be posted below if I can find it.

banned twitter tweet scotrailAbove: Far from my best work, but does this tweet breach any of the the rules mentioned?

Yes, the trains are regularly late or cancelled, with stops frequently dropped to make up time (and the employees are, at best, grumpy or, at worst, liars) but at least all the money goes to a Dutch firm operating internationally instead of being used to improve service and infrastructure. There is an existing counter-argument, often posited on Twitter, that Network Rail is responsible for upkeep and maintenance of signalling and so on – not Scotrail. However, my view is that this is an unwelcome legacy of privatisation – companies charge passengers an extortionate amount to ride on a system whose upkeep is the burden of the government and, by extension, the taxpayer. Scotrail may not technically be required to pay towards the permanent fixing of issues which regularly delay them, but I refuse to believe that shareholders in Holland are of greater importance than commuters in Scotland when it comes to the allocation of generated revenue.

I continue to wonder how or if I can swiftly make the switch to four-wheeled self-driven transport.


Dubious Claims To Fame 27: Alison Brie

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.

Above: My annotated copy of the script shows preparation and cues for audiovisual playback.

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.


Scotrail and the Unenforced Smoking Ban

I think that cigarette-smokers are selfish and obnoxious in their habit; that people who vape are as bad, or worse, due to the vast plumes they exhale; and that I would be morally justified in spitting in the face of anyone who blows smoke into mine. I also dislike Scotrail, my local purveyor of late trains – I run a parody account on Twitter based in my dislike of them, I have been broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live talking about my dislike of them. I do not want you to go away from this thinking, “Maybe he quite likes Scotrail” – no.

In a series of pointless endeavours, I think my favourite – in terms of sheer ineffectiveness – was Scotrail’s taking the time to post No Smoking signs across their open station platforms. Have you seen it deter anybody? I am constantly at various stations across Glasgow, and I have never once seen somebody, on the verge of igniting their cigarette, notice the signage and reconsider. Most days, I let it slide – easier to be silently annoyed than to engage with someone and ask them to act. The only thing less pleasant than the stench of tobacco smoke is a belligerent smoker who is being denied nicotine. Furthermore, in the absence of any visible staff, you are directed to make a complaint via the Information Point, essentially a speakerphone which offers no privacy and which broadcasts loudly across near-empty platforms. To do that invites a whole other level of conflict, as you plainly grass someone up, in front of them, rather than address them directly.

Above: Scotrail’s own site omits any reference to the legality of smoking.

I have considered why Easter Monday was different. It is fair to say that I am naturally grumpy, and for a rare moment I found myself enjoying relative peace and quiet, on a deserted platform, on a bright and sunny and comparatively warm day. This brief enjoyment was interrupted by the new, unmistakable, and disagreeable odour of burning tobacco – the source of which was quickly identifiable as a woman standing opposite me across the tracks. I watched as the sole Scotrail employee, doing her rounds and wearing her yellow hi-viz vest, approached this person breaking at least the rules, and possibly the law (despite it not being an enclosed space, I think the legislation was extended to encompass it. Scotrail is certainly quoted in the media as saying they would involve British Transport Police in such instances, should anyone refuse to comply with the ban.)

There was no admonishment. The woman, who had since sat on a metal bench, looked up as the employee passed, and there was some simple greeting in that moment – a smiled “Hi”, a slight raising of eyebrows perhaps: a shared and friendly acknowledgement of each other’s existence. The employee continued on her way, reaching the nearest No Smoking notice just seconds later. It was at this point, having observed the behaviour several times before, and with time on my hands as I waited on my delayed train, that I took the main course of action pursued by many of us – and used social media as a means of complaint.

Above: Some of the tweets, and a meaningless sign.

Scotrail’s online grouch responded quickly, wanting to know if I had “made the staff aware.” Aware of what – the rule of law? A gap in their training or in their enactment of it? Of the duties involved in carrying out the job for which she was being paid? I answered with a degree of cheekiness, expecting this conversation to go nowhere – as most complaints to Scotrail (and all of their cancelled trains) do. It was their next reply that firmly angered me.

“Our staff wouldn’t walk past somehow smoking and not say anything,” I was curtly informed, with the blind indignant allegiance often reserved for use by the parents of children who bully, or who otherwise commit misdemeanours. I know what I saw. I could have filmed the infraction, and provided visual evidence, but I am not given to this imposition on people’s lives – you do not want to be recorded doing your job unsatisfactorily, nor having a wee seat with your bags of shopping, neither do I and I have no desire to make such intrusive records of other people. There is likely to be footage, of course, thanks to the prevalence of CCTV cameras – all they would need to do is look at the coverage of Platform Two, from 2:10pm on Monday 17th April.

Above: Scotrail “assisted” me by ignoring me for four hours, until I brought the subject up again.

Our conversation proceeded exactly as predicted. Not content to merely disavow facts with a quickness to rival that of America’s premier liar-in-chief, they also mimicked President Trump’s use of the “gaslighting” technique. Finally, defending themselves by referencing my choice of vocabulary, I was promised assistance and promptly ignored – the wall was up, no correspondence would be entered into because I had written a sweary-word. I could let them know next time, they said, and they would act. I countered that I had let them know this time, but they had showed no interest. Why would I waste my time again? Why did they waste theirs, putting up signs that seem to be purely decorative? At best, complaints are discouraged (“Please use the loudhailer to alert the entire vicinity”) or mishandled, and, at worst, they are completely disregarded and your personal credibility will be disputed. I was eventually given a link, to make it formal, but I have no reason to believe it would achieve anything. Instead, I have written and will publicly share this, feeling better that I have used the experience creatively.

Above: The current top returns if you search Twitter for “Scotrail smoking” – if the signs are only advisory then they should be changed to say so.

 

 


Customer Dissatisfaction Is Virgin Territory

Having sent this email and received a reply so brief as to be almost non-existent, which also continued in its failure to address anything I had said, I wrote back without particularly holding back:

Dear Mr Farress, “Customer Relations Consultant”,

I trust you had a pleasant Christmas, and presume that you over-imbibed: only the presence of a monstrous hangover can possibly explain the brevity of your latest reply.

The alternative is that Virgin Trains are even less interested in providing adequate customer service than they are in ensuring trains run punctually, or at all.

I have written two letters of complaint, totalling eleven full typed pages, and so far you have failed to directly address a single sentence. Putting in a modicum of effort is unlikely to kill you, despite how it might feel – suffering as you must surely be from your festive alcoholic over-indulgence. I would have been happy to wait until the New Year for a response, had it meant you were sufficiently clear-headed to send me an appropriate reply.

I see now why your previous letter was full of copied-and-pasted (albeit irrelevant) paragraphs – left to your own devices, you have misspelled the word “cancellation,” an error which seems glaring given how many times you must encounter it in the course of your working life. Furthermore, you have asked me to “send through the relevant tickets” – I attached photographs to my original email, and you will find them there if you peer closer through your booze-induced fug. I can send them again if you prefer. You have already wasted so much of my time, you may as well squander a little more.

To remind you of the facts, I had booked four Virgin Train journeys in the space of six days. Of those four trains, two were cancelled and one arrived late. You have completely failed to address any issues mentioned with the staff, the service provision, or the level of customer service encountered thus far – most of which has been unsatisfactory.

I understand that, as a major company and in line with others of your size, you do not need to particularly care about any given customer’s experience. We are all but drops in the ocean to you. However, you most certainly do not lack the funds to reimburse me for my tickets and for the inconvenience and distress caused. Even discounting the refund of the concert ticket, which you refuse to pay despite forcing me to miss the gig – my sole reason for travelling – you should still be held to account.

I therefore repeat my request that you issue me a payment of £120 to cover my expenses, the abomination of a service you barely provide, and the stress and worry caused as a result of your actions and inactions.

I would also like a full reply to my original complaints, regarding the failure of station and train staff to adequately convey information.

I would ask to “escalate” this letter, but am informed by your Twitter team that I must telephone to do so – at my expense. They inform me that escalation will also occur if I include the VT-reference number attached to my initial email, however (having already included it in my follow-up communication) that previously returned straight to you. It is hardly escalation if we continue going round in circles, all my replies answered by the same work-shy inebriate who has exhausted so much endeavour in celebrating Christmas that he has no inclination to perform his job with any degree of competence.

Nevertheless, I will play by your rules. Please ensure this letter is escalated, and – once your New Year hangover has subsided and you feel able to write with relevance – I will be happy to hear what steps you will be taking to resolve this. In addition to receiving the payment and reply asked for.

Yours,

[Me]

While waiting for a reply, I am considering sending the whole of my correspondence to the CEO.

Update: I plan to write a separate blog to conclude this tale, but the upshot is – three letters totalling twelve pages later – they have refunded me £24 in cash (cheque) and sent me £100 in rail vouchers. My Virgin Train tickets, for the journeys which merited these complaints, cost me £90.

Virgin reply £100 vouchersAbove: Resolution, in which boyband Jedward (see signature) ignore all the points of my letter and give me vouchers on the proviso I leave them alone.

 

 


Going Off The Rails On Virgin Trains

Post updated to include a photo of their reply, 22nd December 2014. A follow-up complaint, addressing this and the cancellation of my London train four days later, can be read here.

Dear Virgin On The Ridiculous,

It gives me no joy to write this, which – coincidentally – is precisely the same amount of joy (none) which you provided on my journey to England yesterday. As I anticipate that this will be a lengthy missive, I recommend that you make yourself a cup of tea before you begin reading.

My favourite band tour the UK once a year, and it has long been my habit to see them a few times in that week, up and down the country. I reason that, since I have to wait twelve months for a seventy-five minute show, it makes sense to see a couple of their gigs, knowing that once they leave I will have another year to wait for their return.

To give you some indication of how passionately I love live music, and this one band in particular, I have seen them twenty-nine times, in five countries, on two continents. It was never my intention to become one of those fans who travels to see a given band, nor to follow them on tour, it was a natural progression and just sort of happened over the course of nearly ten years.

I am due to see them another twice this week, although that hinges – in part – on you managing to get me to London on my booked trains. After yesterday’s debacle, I have lost faith in your abilities.

With the recent Met Office warning that has been dubbed a “weather bomb” – enabling this country’s diabolical media to focus their front pages on photographs of waves when, if they had any kind of conscience to speak of, they would be systematically dismantling every lie to emanate from Cameron, Osborne, and Iain Duncan Smith – I was worried that my travel might be disrupted. So worried, in fact, that I looked into buying travel insurance that would cover cancellation, and “tweeted” you on Tuesday to ask about any known issues. I was assured that my train should be running “as normal”, and I subsequently packed for my overnight trip. Although I enquired if you offered any add-on insurance that I could buy, this went unanswered. Factoring in the costs of my excursion (train, hotel, gig ticket), and weighing it against the excess due on the one policy I found for UK trips, I realised there was little point purchasing any. Abandoning the endeavour would see me reimbursed a mere fifteen pounds. I would just risk it.

On Wednesday morning, with hysteria and panic leading mistitled “news” reports about a bit of wind and rain in mid-December, I considered it pertinent to check again. The service, you replied via Twitter, was still running. At my request, I was then directed to a webpage where I could verify for myself, nearer the time, that there were no drastic changes. The last thing I did before leaving the house was ensure my train was scheduled and punctual.

Having dedicated a not-inconsiderable amount of energy, time, and effort, to ensuring it was worthwhile packing and making my way to Glasgow Central – tempering my enthusiasm for being at the gig with the knowledge that I might not make it there – you may perhaps appreciate my dismay when, upon arrival at the concourse, the departures board announced that my train had been cancelled.

Crestfallen, I headed straight for Virgin’s office. The girl behind the counter cheerfully informed me that – despite the apocalyptic storm that had threatened to thwart my plans – it was a broken-down freight train causing my chagrin. With everything now in disarray, I wondered what my options were. It was 15:20 and my train was due to leave at 15:40, arriving in Preston at 17:55 – with venue doors opening at 19:00.

Somewhat less than ideally, I would have to board a chartered bus to Carlisle, catching a train there to complete my journey. Estimating two hours of coach travel, the girl suggested it might be a further hour by rail after that. Not particularly enamoured with the idea of heading two-hundred miles only to miss the sole reason for going, it struck me as foolish to abandon my plans at that stage. Better, surely, to take the chance and hopefully catch some of the headline band, at least.

Your office was filling up with people idly awaiting the promised coaches. I elected to wait outside, at the Gordon Street entrance if you know the geography of the station, desperately hoping I might get on the first coach and make a speedy departure. Denied. The more I looked for the promised bus, the more it was not there. Equally scarce were any Virgin staff – presumably hiding from the wrath of other disgruntled and inconvenienced would-be passengers.

Eventually, one woman did come out, a woman with the dark-haired, craggy-faced look of Alice Cooper about her. I neglected to mention that, out of politeness, but said politeness was sadly not reciprocated. In answer to my question, about buses and destinations, she curtly said “I’m going in here,” as she failed to break stride while marching back into the office. I have worked in customer service much of my life, and learned long ago that basic manners cost nothing and – indeed – reflect well on a company. I could have said as much to this woman, hindered only by the fact she had strutted off before the thought formed. Whatever her mission was, it did not involve the provision of timely information.

Two coaches eventually arrived, people thronging first to one and then to the other, as drivers tried to determine where they were bound. The little red-jacketed Alice Cooper woman – your representative in this sorry episode – reappeared and held a hasty conflab with both drivers, only after a dozen doddery old pensioners had taken ages hauling their snail-paced carcasses on board the rear bus. Duly it was announced that this bus would go to Preston direct, the front bus making the afore-mentioned Carlisle stop. These ancient ruins then took forever carrying their coffin-dodging selves back off the bus, while I silently hated them – with nerves shot and blood pressure rising from the stress.

Little Red Virgin Jacket promptly disappeared again, leaving me with absolutely no idea if I should take the Preston bus or go to Carlisle and transfer there. I figured it made sense to make my way directly to the concert location, rather than risk being stranded in northern England, climbing into the second bus. Stressed – in local parlance – out my nut, the bus finally departed a full thirty minutes after the scheduled train departure.

With no idea how long I would be incarcerated for, angry and frustrated at being forced to use a method of long-distance transport I despise, we were off!

I decided many years ago to always travel by rail or flight, and I have generally been happy with the service you have provided. My first coach journey was a nightmare, my naive and inexperienced nineteen-year-old self trekking to London for the first time, to see another band. The nine-hour ride lasted a full twelve hours, entering the capital at the very moment the support band took the stage. I was panicked, lost, confused, and harassed. Fourteen years later, you successfully managed to revive those feelings.

I enjoy the simple things Virgin offers – the promise of a table seat in a quiet carriage, with phone charging facilities; the chance to have legroom not designed solely for Douglas Bader or, for a more modern reference, Oscar Pistorius. These basic comforts were denied me, any semblance of quiet and calm annihilated by the banal chatter of people I can most accurately describe as tedious bastards. I mean, infuriatingly boring people with nothing to say, yet quite content to say it loudly and without rest.

One of the many, many reasons I jettisoned coaches as a method of going anywhere is the apparent seat design specification which caters only for frail old women. In my boots, I stand at six feet and four inches tall; I am broad-shouldered; I could do with losing some weight, but am not so fat as to have been mistakenly hunted for ivory. These moulded seats are, to me, some intolerable and mediaeval torture. They do not seem equipped to accommodate anybody with an internal skeletal structure – the base of the seat juts firmly into my hip bones, putting strain on my lower back, and the top of the seat back serves to force my shoulders forwards in an extremely unpleasant manner. Furthermore, I had the added discomfort of balancing my heavy backpack on my lap, as there was no room overhead. Please enjoy this image, of a well-built, tall, broad-shouldered man, crammed into a space so small it would barely serve my seven-month old niece. With my knees up to my chin, my belongings weighing on my legs, the only thing missing – sadly, not missing – was an inconsiderate arsehole jamming me in.

See, he was there too, trying to occupy the exact location of my left-hand side. Had he forced me to sit any closer to the window I would have been outside. His sheer bulk allowed me arm room that a thalidomide baby would have found inadequate. Having fully engulfed his own seat and half of mine, he promptly dozed off, legs spread so wide that he must surely have testicles the size of watermelons. His right knee so firmly touched my left knee that it caused me to wonder if this was his fetish: pretend to be asleep and rub innocuous limbs against other commuters.

I was unable, try as I might, to take up less room. With severe cramp in my legs, I also experienced extreme muscle ache in my left arm, as I was forced to hold it in a painful, slightly elevated and unnatural position – whereas normally I would have rested it. It seemed inappropriate to balance my wrist on his bald head, the only other option which presented itself.

Squashed between the two armrests digging into my pelvis, causing untold pain in my lower back, I tried to alleviate the multitude of aches by sitting up straighter. Instead, my foot found itself atop a crushed drinks can left on the floor by some previous detainee of this Guantanamo Bus.

All of this was accompanied, naturally, by somebody – most likely the driver – blasting the most horrendous music, which offended my ears when it was Madonna, and compounded my new idea of Hell when the Christmas songs started.

Crusher awoke from his dozing, and fast discovered that he knew the people in the seat behind us. Friends Reunited lives. Suddenly I expected an appearance from Cilla Black, yelling “Surprise Surprise!” or, worse, Esther Rantzen giving them both a little gold heart like she used to do on – well, I think her reunion show was probably called Hearts Of Gold, and I refuse to demean myself by checking. It is bad enough that these things are still in my consciousness two decades after they last aired.

Thankfully – being grateful for small mercies – this conversational development quickly subsided, and I was permitted to hear Wham’s tinny radio rendition of “Last Christmas I gave you a shotgun and a single cartridge,” which I would actually have enjoyed listening to if those were the real lyrics.

It was around this point that I engaged with Crusher, offering to remove my leg with a saw if he could find me one. He declined, which was damned decent of him, but neither did it inspire him to close his legs any or encroach less on my breathing room. With his right elbow lodged hard against my left elbow, I accepted it was stalemate.

With that impasse reached, I can detail my endeavours to obtain any sort of information from Virgin Trains verified Twitter account. Previously quite helpful, you shut up shop fast.

Keep in mind, please, that the sole purpose of my trip was to see my favourite band play their first UK show in a year. They have a new album full of songs I have never heard live, with new band members added to the line-up, playing instruments I have never seen (or heard) them use the past twenty-eight times. My only concern, at this point, was if I would get there in time to see anything other than the encore.

What I most wanted to know was the anticipated journey time. My train had been due to arrive about 18:00, giving me plenty of time to find my hotel in the dark, wet night. I needed to freshen up – a term I have never used in my life prior to this very sentence – then change, before attempting to locate the venue. I was confident I could find my way around but, not being Challenge Anneka, a strict deadline was an unnecessary pressure. I can send you the screengrabs, but here is the gist of this further miscommunication:

“Can someone – perhaps @virgintrains – check how long it’ll take a coach from Glasgow Central to reach Preston?”
“It will be a coach between Preston and Lancaster then train onwards, Jordan”

I appreciate you tried the personal touch in that reply, the only minor problem being that the rest of it related in absolutely no way to my question or my predicament.

Would I make this gig? How long should road travel take? I would have checked a popular online search engine’s maps app, only I am fast running out of my data allowance and – not being a Virgin train – this bus has no wi-fi facilities. Understandably, due to the variables involved, you were wary of committing: “However, they will try and get you there asap”

ASAP.

When is ASAP – is it 19:00? 23:00? Tuesday? January? I wanted a ballpark figure, and “ASAP” was not good enough – especially not when I had explained that I was on a tight and specific schedule. Instead, my tweeted requests for a figure, or for a “rough idea” were completely ignored. Like I said, you are welcome to screengrabs of all this, I saved it all.

Meanwhile, let us return to Crusher. At 18:34 – a hundred-and-forty minutes in – he finally swivelled in his seat, moving his legs out into the aisle. The joy of moving and stretching my own leg – a sensation I had nearly forgotten in the interim – was tempered only by how cold it felt once he ceased behaving like a human blanket. We continued on.

Seven P.M. came and went, the venue doors now opened for entry while I stared into pitch black motorway and wondered where I was, other than Sartre’s vision of Hell. I did not yet mention the stifling stench of feet, farts, and body odour which permeated our transport, as did the excremental fumes from the on-board cesspit – and added to by the further olfactory assault of crisps and similarly odoriferous foods. Three hours had passed, and the reek of sandwiches and ass gas had become unbearable. I would have opened a window but, coaches being how they are, it would have required a hammer. Having earlier established that there was no saw in the immediate vicinity, the likelihood of finding a hammer nearby appeared slight.

At 19:11 – and you will sense that I jotted notes for this complaint as I went – Crusher rose and made his way to the toilet. It occurred to me that a slow trickle of piss could have worked its way down, backing up as it filled his groin to capacity, and that that may explain why his legs were forced apart at the tops of the thighs. The poor man must have inflated, his legs widening as an alternative to his merely exploding in a stagnant burst of yellow spray.

There was no real time to note improvement, on his return, as we arrived in Preston at 19:32 – a mere ninety-seven minutes late. I checked with the driver that his arrival time will be logged, should you wish to verify it. I could not get off that bus fast enough. I have never had a good experience going by coach, and if I wanted to book a coach I would have done so.

Naturally, arriving so far behind schedule left me no time to eat. I raced for the hotel as quickly as I was able, trying to walk off the cramp that had built up. By the time I reached the venue it was gone 20:30 and with it the chance to see support bands and savour the atmosphere coming together.

I did manage to see the full set that, as a longtime fan and friend of the band, had been so important to me. However, it was entirely down to luck and you did nothing to ease my frustrations or worries.

I am annoyed at the shambolic handling of the coach boarding in Glasgow, the absence of informed staff (and of staff, full stop, out by the buses), and the further hold up caused by people being directed incorrectly.

I am disappointed that your once-helpful Twitter staff refused, point blank, to even attempt to provide the information I specifically requested, despite being told the reasons for it. Furthermore, they did nothing short of ignore my queries.

I am worried that you will fail me again. I am due to travel to London on Sunday, and – being considerably further away – there is no way a replacement bus will get me there in anything resembling a timely manner.

This entire experience was wholly unsatisfactory and unpleasant. In addition to the full refund I expect on my tickets, I think you should be reimbursing me for the gig ticket, given I missed all but one (thankfully THE) band, and compensating me for the utter discomfort which I have tried to document fully above.

I await your response.

Here is their response. My reply to it is here.

Virgin letter - replyAbove: Their wholly uninspiring stock reply. Read my response to it (and them) here.

 

 


Creative Correspondence – A Reply.

My previous post detailed a letter of complaint to my local supermarket, written principally for my own amusement and regarding a sandwich I bought which turned out to be stale. They replied with a cut-and-pasted stock response, which led me to follow it up with this:

“Thanks for cutting and pasting a totally impersonal response. It’s a genuine shame that they don’t permit you to function as a human and compose a reply of your own. The very least I expected was an acknowledgment that my carefully-constructed letter had made you smile. Or not.

Thanks for the offer of a voucher. As you don’t have my postal address, I don’t see much point in you sending me it. Give it a shot, though – my name is reasonably unique in this part of the world – especially if you include my middle initials. Certainly, with only my name and general geographic area written on the envelope, finding my location will keep the Royal Mail busy at this otherwise quiet time of year for them.”

For that last sentence to make sense, you need to know that I wrote this in December.

It occurred to me that their Twitter account might be a better way of contacting them, in pursuit of a satisfactory reply. They quickly asked for my email address, which I provided. Then it all went a bit quiet.

supermarket DMs

Credit to them, their reply – which arrived yesterday – was well worth the wait. Once you have read my original letter, you will understand and appreciate this reply:

Thank you for contacting us and please accept my apologies for your disappointment with the response you have previously received from us and for the problems you experienced with the long awaited, greatly anticipated Meat Feast Sub Roll you purchased from us recently.

I do concede that from purchase of this roll, to the time of placing it into your fridge, it could not have degenerated in such a short time frame (unless your fridge was conspiring against you)!   

I assure you that I was most aggrieved to learn that you were unable to fully enjoy this roll as you had hoped and therefore would like to give you the reassurance that this will be addressed in store to ensure that we only sell the best quality products that please our customers and that we continue to maintain the highest possible standards.

I am so very pleased that the roll was safely disposed of in your rubbish bin (I mean your very nice bin designed to accept rubbish that has served you so well) and that no mishaps occurred whereby it was accidently dropped on a small child!  We would certainly not want to learn that you were up on manslaughter charges due to you innocently purchasing some lunch!

At this point, I would like to say that yes, I was most amused by your comments and your eloquent description of events certainly did make me chuckle to myself.

That aside, I am extremely sorry for the crushing blow you have been dealt and I am happy to send you a £10.00 voucher as a gesture of goodwill and in recognition of the time and trouble you have taken to bring this to our attention.   Rather than leaving the guesswork to Royal Mail, would you kindly provide me with your address details so that I can arrange for this to be posted out to you.

Thank you again for bringing this woeful tale to our attention and I look forward to hearing from you shortly.

Fair play, Morrisons. Fair play.

 

 


Now It’s Cone Too Far.

I love this city. Although I was born and brought up some eleven miles away, I quickly realised upon moving here that I was always Glaswegian – I had just been trapped elsewhere for twenty-three years. This is the best, although sometimes the worst, city in the world, and I cannot imagine living anywhere else. I would miss the people, their sense of humour, and the civic pride. See, the people of Glasgow love Glasgow. This was demonstrated beautifully earlier today.

Glasgow embraces its flaws, like the fact the Science Centre Tower is destined to never properly function. This trait is even summed up in the city’s coat of arms, as one of my friends brought to my attention: Here’s the bird that never flew, Here’s the tree that never grew, Here’s the bell that never rang, Here’s the fish that never swam. Supposed to depict miracles performed by Saint Mungo, it instead just sounds like a host of things that do not quite work. Further, there are areas of this city where there is no work at all, since the decline of heavy industry, yet people are quick to come together when the things we love are challenged.

This has been demonstrated recently, with the announcement of plans to renovate George Square. I remember the square before its transformation into how it looked for the past fifteen years – it was a green and leafy place in the heart of the city, the kind of place where somebody could steal the baby Jesus from the nativity scene. It then became a vast expanse of reddish-brown and bobbly tarmac – which led to me writing a joke about standing in the middle of it and kidding on you are a Borrower in the centre of a huge square sausage. “It’s great fun, until some junkie hits you with the brown sauce.”

george square sausageAbove: George Square Sausage.

The proposed changes were quickly condemned and subsequently dropped, with the consensus being that – if alterations were to be made – then it should be restored to how it was previously. Fancy fountains are all well and good, but the last thing Glasgow needs is a water feature. We have one already, suspended in grey clouds that regularly deposit their load upon us. Today, civic sensibility again won out – this time with regard to the Duke of Wellington’s traffic cone hat.

are ye aye

A fixture upon his head for so long that it has become a cultural icon, adorning clothing and postcards and making it into a Lonely Planet guidebook, there was outrage when it was suggested that the practice should end. The intention was to raise the plinth by about a metre, making it harder for people to place the cone upon Wellington’s head. “Challenge accepted” was one response I read.

I happened to catch this news story as it broke, courtesy of the Twitter feed of Brian “Limmy” Limond. He had gone through the original STV article, highlighting certain phrases and drawing attention to the instigator of this ill-considered idea. Rachel Smith, he discovered via LinkedIn, hails from Edinburgh. There is famously no love lost between our cities, and a great divide in our cultures and senses of humour.

limmy article

Meanwhile, word was spreading. My wee cousin linked to a petition that was set up (currently at nearly 10,000 signatures), which called for a re-think and linked to the Lonely Planet article mentioned above. Comedian Greg Hemphill got involved, mentioning drily how every Glaswegian loves being told what they can and cannot do. Then I saw an unintentionally hilarious post, from someone bemoaning the raising of the “Duke of Ellington” statue. I took that and used it, complaining with tongue in cheek that I “Can’t believe they’re gonna stop you putting a cone on Duke Ellington’s head. That’s totally racist.”

Duke Ellington is not the Duke of Wellington, and Jack Skellington is also someone different.

An English friend pointed out that Wellington’s Cone is the one sight she remembers from her visit here, while comedian Jim Park announced that “The Duke of Wellington DID wear a traffic cone on his head at the Battle Of Waterloo, so there is a compelling historical argument.” Over on Facebook, groups were being set up to protest the decision, and a demonstration was hastily arranged for the next working day.

fb group

On there, as on the petition page, people were questioning the estimated cost of £65,000 for the work involved. Various graphics appeared, supplying departmental phone numbers and email addresses for registering discontent. This money could be better spent fixing potholes, funding community projects, or as a donation to the Philippines Disaster Fund.  The article claimed that it costs £100 a time to remove the cone, which was disputed on the petition page and which outraged Limmy.

limmy hunner quid

The original article was posted, according to the STV site, at 13:07. The outrage and humour flew on social media, with it being regularly mentioned that the cone embodies the defiant spirit of fun that permeates our city’s attitude. It’s part of our “get it up ye” culture, proclaimed Janey Godley.

Having casually followed the general outcry for most of the afternoon, by 22:56 the game was over. The BBC published an article describing the day’s events, in which they claimed the council is very likely to back down. It seems a sensible move, from a governing body that uses on its own website an image of the very thing they wish to ban. Amazingly, the statue (with cone) appears to be listed there at the very top of a section headed Objects Of Inspiration. I mean, really. This shower of dunces should be made to wear conical hats themselves.

In fact, if you have a cone of your own handy, the demonstration tomorrow will now be a celebration. I love that too, that we are all going to get together anyway and just celebrate the cone on the statue’s head. It is the mentality that appeals to me – an outpouring of shared affection for one of the most endearing sights in the town centre. A triumph for common (non)sense.

fb party

There you go. One afternoon was enough to (almost certainly) reverse a new policy – that is fast work, the vocal majority reminding the cooncil to stop messing with things that make Glasgow Glasgow. If only it was always this quick and easy.

Here is a short video clip Limmy made eight years ago, in which he plays an east-coaster who has come through to Glasgow just to see the statue with the cone. There is no cone to be seen, leaving our hero confused and disappointed.

 

Sources:
STV (via Limmy)
Change.org (via Rachael)
Glasgowlife.org.uk (Stu Who via Eddy Cavin)
Twitter and Facebook (Limmy, Greg Hemphill, Jim Park, Janey Godley, Lauren, John McLarnon, Gary Cassidy, Ray Bradshaw, Ailsa Comrie)
BBC News
Coat of arms observation: Sarah Crone


T-Mobile, Truly Mannerless.

I wrote a letter of complaint to T-Mobile, and was then given conflicting information about how to send it to them. Eventually, when my email bounced back and they confirmed that they have no public email address, I printed my letter and sent it via Royal Mail. I also posted it on here, and linked them to it via Twitter. I disputed the amount they requested from me to settle my account, and listed the errors they had made along the way.

T-Mob DMs

They must have read both entries as published here, because they then “direct messaged” me again, this time asking that I confirm a few personal details. I did so, and they linked me to a generic page on their website, here.

T-Mob help

I had already submitted my complaint, using the address that had been provided during one of many phone calls. This information was too little, too late, and I had also taken the time to write a separate and serious missive to the company’s CEO. His name was easy to find, firstly by using a well-known search engine, and verified by calling their head office on 01707 315000. The girl on the switchboard helpfully spelled his name for me too, and you can read about Olaf Swantee’s career on their site.

Two weeks passed, largely without incident. I enquired why they had checked my identity prior to supplying a publicly-accessible link, and they apologised for wasting my time. That is genuinely what they said. I have taken a fair few screen-grabs of all this back-and-forth chat with them. In the words of Chris Morris, here is “proof, if proof be need be.”

T-Mob dealt with

I decided against picking them up on their use of the words “dealt with”, and how that could be easily misconstrued if I was in the mood to prolong the fight. The implication of that phrase is that I am some sort of pest, Perhaps I was.

Today, it is a full two weeks since we last conversed on Twitter. It is four weeks since I spoke to anybody on the phone. According to my Twitter messages, it is seventy-five days since I queried whether or not they had correctly terminated my contract, without charge. This afternoon, somebody with a north-east English accent phoned me. He asked my name, and began discussing details of my complaint. No further identity checks were undertaken, a breach in protocol that would not be tolerated in any of the call centres where I have worked.

His tone was insincere, as he offered an apology that was as empty as the rest of his conversation. He was willing to waive the small charge that had been applied, for issuing my PAC code that let me leave them. I told him he could waive the rest as well, and that I had written to the CEO. He wanted to know if I had addressed my letter to just “The CEO” or if I had put his name. I told him that I had addressed it personally, although what difference it makes was not clear to me. In truth, I forgot Olaf Swantee’s name at this point, and even his nationality, mistakenly referring to him as “the Danish guy.”

The man on the phone pursued his scripted line of defence. It seemed to centre around the outstanding balance, of about twenty pounds, being “such a small sum” that it “seems a shame to mark your credit file with it.” The implication appeared to be that I should have saved myself some hassle by just paying a fee that I do not believe I am liable for, Frankly, my credit file is already marked, and twenty quid and the involvement of T-Mobile’s appointed debt collectors is unlikely to change much either way. I have bigger creditors to contend with.

To him, repeating himself in the absence of any meaningful debate, it was still “a shame” to have that on my credit file. As for it being “such a small sum”, it certainly is a small sum when your company took in revenue of nearly six-billion pounds last year. I would almost suggest that they should take the hit, rather than me. In fact, I did suggest that. I demanded it and refused to pay.

He persevered with his rebuttal. I suddenly remembered an article that I had been sent last week, from somebody who had read these blogs. He wrote of his own experience, and somewhere in there or on some other social media site, I had noticed that EE was being investigated by the BBC’s consumer affairs programme. I brought this into play.

“I heard you were featured on Watchdog this week.”

His answer astounded me. “Every big company is on Watchdog at some point.”

“Aye, fair play. Don’t let it bother you.”

That ended our discussion. As a “gesture of goodwill”, my remaining balance was wiped clean. Given the seventy-five days of mistakes, phone calls, letters, misinformation, and poor communication, I could have asked for more and maybe should have. They got off pretty damned lightly, for all of the inconvenience they have caused. Thinking about it now, they referred me to a debt collector, smeared my credit history, and then instantly wrote the debt off when I asked them to – while simultaneously implying that it was my fault for not paying them directly.  If I really owed them that money then they put up very little resistance, all told.

To recap, T-Mobile’s shop staff admitted that their coverage is very poor in the Greater Glasgow area. Their customer service department agreed that this lack of service provision was a breach of the contract I have with them. Due to this, they released me from my contract approximately ten months early, and without financial penalty. Having then taken two goes to supply the correct PAC code, they billed me for it – a charge which was not mentioned when I asked for the full terms and conditions to be explained to me in advance. This was the charge that I disputed.

it took me two-and-a-half-months, several hours of phone calls and even more hours of writing letters, but I finally got there. If you can be bothered persevering, persevere. If you have the option to not sign up to an EE contract, take it. Sign up to almost anyone else instead.

Big Olaf has not replied to me yet. I was far more formal when I addressed him, which makes for less entertaining reading. Therefore, I have not posted that letter here. However, if he sends me any kind of reply, I will be sure to publish it for all to see. In the meantime, you can write to him too. If everyone tells him how awful his company is, he will have to take note.

T-mobile envelope

His address is: Olaf Swantee (CEO), EE Head Office, Hatfield Business Park, Hatfield Avenue, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, AL10 9BW.


T-Mobile, Terminally Misinformed.

I recently wrote a lengthy letter of complaint to T-Mobile, regarding their inability to be of any use whatsoever.

About ten days ago, having finally spoken to one of their call-centre staff, I was informed that they do not and cannot accept complaints by email. She gave me an address to post it to instead. I queried this on their website immediately, giving my name as “Sir”, and within minutes I was provided with an email address – as can be seen in the screen-grab below. If it is too small to read, click on it.

t-mob chat

Once I composed and sent my email, published on here yesterday, I was surprised when I did not receive an automatic response saying that my communication would be replied to in due course. For my own peace of mind, I asked for confirmation via their Twitter page – a screen-grab follows.

t-mob tweet

Today, I received a direct message from them which said – guess? – that no, I cannot email them.

t-mob dm

Those of you who read my letter of complaint will know that there is no easy way to condense it to Twitter’s limit of 140 characters. While I amend it to include my postal address and details of this development, prior to mailing it to them in the old-fashioned way, I am putting this here to deter any would-be customers from suffering at the hands of this backward, contradictory company.  As the idiom has it, “they couldn’t agree on the colour of shite.”

 


Averse To Adverts

I despise advertising, and take what steps I can to avoid it. It is not exactly easy.

I think Bill Hicks said it best, or at least most succinctly, when he advocated “if you are in Advertising or Marketing, kill yourself.”

 

Another notable quote is the speech that Chuck Palahniuk wrote into the mouth of Tyler Durden, in his novel Fight Club:

“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history. No purpose or place. We have no Great War, No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t”

It is increasingly difficult to avoid adverts, and even with the most stringent efforts it is impossible for those with all five senses to fully do so. I take what measures I can, however – I have never owned a set-top box and, since the cessation of the analogue service, no longer have a television signal. The shows I want to see, I either eventually buy them on DVD (there not being any real rush to see a given programme) or download (a lesser-used option as I do not have a broadband connection.) DVDs generally have no adverts, and people who upload things first do the public service of cutting out the ad breaks.

Having had no television signal/box for nine years now, the only thing I have ever really missed was the news. That changed when I realised that modern media journalism had used, as a blueprint, the once-satirical work of Chris Morris. “The Day Today” was so brilliantly accurate that, for the initial minute when seeing it for the first time (back when it was originally broadcast) I half-mistook it for a genuine news show. It seems to have set the bar to which all current affairs programmes now aspire.

 

There is an added beauty to having no TV signal, aside from it being very easy to avoid the trap of settling down to idly flick endlessly through fifty channels of an evening – the majority of them showing repeats, and funded by sponsors, commercials, and product placement. I remember when people complained when programmes were repeated on terrestrial television within a year of being first shown – the expectation now is that shows will be repeated in an hour. As well as avoiding unending hours of drivel, and cherry-picking the things I want to see – rather than relying on those that happen to be on at a particular moment – if you do not watch TV as it is broadcast then there is no requirement to purchase a licence.

Not only am I avoiding that three-figure annual fee, but I see less adverts telling me how much prettier and sexually active I will be if only I drown myself in this aftershave/eat this sandwich/sell all of my gold/drink this nutrition-free beverage/buy cheaper car insurance. Furthermore, I can easily avoid the tedious monotony of meerkats and opera singers that so infuriate the majority of the people in my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

As far as those mentioned social media sites go, I have installed various ad-blockers that filter out some (though sadly not all) adverts. Commercials do nothing to enhance our lives, instead preying on our fears and insecurities to sell us things we don’t need and can usually ill-afford. I understand that they do offer substantial income for virtually every comedian I ever held any respect for, most of whom undermined their integrity at the prospect of receiving a hefty cheque. To return once more to the insightful Bill Hicks:

“Here’s the deal, folks. You do a commercial – you’re off the artistic roll call, forever. End of story. Okay? You’re another whore at the captialist gang bang and if you do a commercial, there’s a price on your head. Everything you say is suspect and every word that comes out of your mouth is now like a turd falling into my drink.”

I am not, or certainly try not, to come across as smugly superior about avoiding adverts. It is virtually impossible to completely do so – there are always magazines and billboards and newspapers and signs in pub toilets, posters and (negating any argument about how we must conserve energy and save the planet) flat screen displays running twenty-four-seven in certain tube stations and on the streets. I purposely bypass what I can, and endeavour to ignore the rest. Growing up, my Grandma would always mute the ad breaks if we were watching something, to enable conversation. I find myself doing the same, whenever I am visiting friends or family: I am more interested in engaging with the people I care about.

You only have one life, and you should not have it dictated to you what products you should purchase. It should certainly not be the mandate of companies who know nothing about you, whose sole concern is the generation of further profits. If you are so inclined, you do not have to allow yourself to be sunjected to this incessant onslaught. As Banksy wrote, incorporated into the graphic which inspired this post:

banksy-on-advertising


Dubious Claims To Fame – 22

I logged in to my Twitter account the other day, prior to setting up a dedicated account for this blog in order to try and reach a wider readership. So far, the blog page is being followed by ten people, and is not yet what you might call a roaring success. If you are on Twitter, you can help me change that if you are so inclined. Please be inclined.

I always have a quick look at my Timeline, to see what people I follow are posting, before switching to the “Interactions” page so as to avoid being swamped by a million new-tweet notifications. This has changed now that I have begun using Tweetdeck to manage my personal account, this blog’s account, and the account for my “Adventures In The World Of Stand-Up Comedy” blog. However, that was my routine on the day in question.

The top of my Timeline was filled with retweets from comedian Sarah Millican, and from them it was fairly evident that she had posted about swallowing her chewing gum. Most of the “funny” answers had already been given and, as I have an aversion to being in any way “hack” with my jokes, I was prepared to skip straight to the page telling me how little I had been socially interacted with since last signing in. That was when I noticed the tweet I was drawn to reply to.

tweet dr fox tweet

Neil “Doctor” Fox was a fixture of my childhood, his nationally-syndicated weekend chart show playing in the car on our way to or from various shopping malls, supermarkets, and trips to see one or other of my grandparents. More than anything, I remember the constant jingle that cut the word “Fox” onto a truncated sample of Robert Palmer singing “Doctor, Doctor,” from his song about having a “Bad Case Of Loving You.”

I tried to find a clip of that particular jingle, with no luck, but I did find this track by Kunt And The Gang. They appear to be offering sexual favours in return for a high chart position.

 

I have loved Chris Morris ever since I first stumbled upon an episode of The Day Today on BBC 2 one night, and mistook it for a factual programme for about thirty seconds. Its subversive genius soon became apparent, and it has subsequently made televised news impossible to watch. I was fortunate enough to then see the original broadcasts of his equally brilliant Brass Eye and the darkly twisted sketch show Jam. I have watched all of them innumerable times since, able to quote large amounts of all of them and awed by the beauty of his turns of phrase. “Proof if proof be need be”; “Quadrospazzed on a Life-Glug” ; “Cake is a made-up drug … A big, yellow death-bullet in the head of some poor user, or ‘custard gannet,’ as the dealers call them.”

“When dancing, lost in techno trance, arms flailing, gawky Bez. Then find you snagged on frowns, and slowly dawns… you’re jazzing to the bleak tone of a life support machine, that marks the steady fading of your day-old baby daughter. And when midnight sirens lead to blue-flash road-mash; stretchers, covered heads, and slippy red macadam, and find you creeping ‘neath the blankets, to snuggle close a mangle bird, hoping soon you too will be freezer-drawered. Then welcome… mmm… ooh, chemotherapy wig, welcome. In Jam. Jam. Jam. Jam. Jam. Jaaaaam.” – Intro to Episode 1

Brass Eye’s most infamous episode was the one-off special, Paedogeddon. From Wikipedia:

“To illustrate the media’s knee-jerk reaction to the subject, various celebrities were duped into presenting fatuous and often ridiculous pieces to camera in the name of a campaign against paedophiles. Gary Lineker and Phil Collins endorsed a spoof charity, Nonce Sense, (pronounced “nonsense”—”nonce” being British slang for people convicted or suspected of molestation or sexual crimes), Collins saying, “I’m talking Nonce Sense!” Tomorrow’s World presenter Philippa Forrester and ITN reporter Nicholas Owen were shown explaining the details of HOECS (pronounced “hoax”) computer games, which on-line paedophiles were using to abuse children via the internet. Capital Radio DJ Neil “Doctor” Fox told viewers that “paedophiles have more genes in common with crabs than they do with you and me”, adding “Now that is scientific fact — there’s no real evidence for it — but it is scientific fact”.”

That last quote, from “Doctor” Fox, is one of many that I can easily recite verbatim. Here he was on Twitter, espousing an obviously nonsensical “fact” in reply to Sarah Millican’s tweet, and I replied without a second’s hesitation – quoting his own assertion about facts and evidence.

 

I did not expect a reply – I figured it would be an episode of his life that he would be embarrassed to be reminded of, since various celebrity interviewees later denounced the show while publicly expressing their anger at being duped. I did not anticipate a reply from Sarah Millican either, as she has previously ignored me. Kind of. We have a mutual friend, a professional comedian who once publicly posted the link to my film “Jerry Generic” – which is a short satire of stand-up and of hack jokes and topics. Ms. Millican “replied” to it, but only insofar as to send an unrelated tweet to the friend off the back of it. I saw it as I was named in the original tweet, but the reply was not directed at, and did not concern, me. I presumed that it was easier to tack a new message onto that one rather than hit the “compose” button, and took that communication to be an act of convenience rather than a personal slight.

It came as some surprise, then, to find a reply from Foxy a few days later. He had taken my tweet in his stride, seeming to praise me for making the reference, and candidly referring to the occasional repercussions of his appearance on that show. I accepted that at face value and decided not to reply further – instead resorting to just retweeting it for others to read.

tweet dr fox full


Pubs, Offensive Shirts, And Invisible Children.

A letter to a national pub chain, after I was asked to remove a particular item of clothing in one of their bars. Nobody has previously complained about the garment in question, and so I curiously asked what the problem was. Instead of a reason, I got attitude. With all business names redacted, here is the letter I have just sent to their customer service department. Some of the facts, humour, and phrases have been lifted from my recent blogs, but I think they were worth reusing. I am very interested to see how, or if, they reply.

To Whom It May Concern,

I wish to make a formal complaint about the manner in which I was spoken to in one of your Glasgow pubs recently. I am not sure if the staff member in question is a manager or supervisor, but I do know that he was overly aggressive in his tone. This happened at 5pm on a Wednesday, as I was enjoying my first drink of the evening, and will require some background context.

You have perhaps noticed on the news that a former UK prime minister died recently. They tried to cover it up, but I think the story slipped through. Her name was Margaret Thatcher.

On the day of the funeral, I had elected to exercise my democratic right to protest. This is, in part, because I would like to exercise my democratic right to government – in my country, we elected one solitary Conservative MP. As there are five million of us, voting in 59 MPs at a general election, you can see the numbers are disproportionate. Scotland has more pandas than Tory MPs, and the pandas have a better chance of increasing their number.

Having recently decided to take a stance against this thoroughly unjust distribution of power, inspired by the constant and unworkable cuts being imposed upon us by a parliament of millionaires, I have taken to joining marches and demonstrations. I believe the time is right for growing public dissent to become more visible, and am doing what I can to swell its ranks. After all, if I don’t stand up for what I believe in, who will?

With this in mind, I have begun wearing a shirt that I made shortly after the general election in which Cameron was not fairly elected by majority, but managed to get into the top job regardless. On the back of my shirt, taking my lead from the DIY ethic of the original punk movement, I wrote “FUCK THE TORIES.” I am not often given to defacing my clothing, but this was heartfelt and I am quite happy to display my disgust with them and all they stand for. That was my reason for attending this rally on the day of the funeral which, at a time when there is no money for hospitals or education, cost approximately ten million pounds. It is no odds to me that Thatcher is dead, she was dead to Scotland decades ago. However, I genuinely hope that more people will follow my lead, rather than registering their discontent with the Conservatives by merely clicking on and sharing Facebook images. The rising unpopularity of this government needs to be made very obvious.

I was wearing this shirt on the day of the funeral, over a T-shirt, and as the rally to “Remember Thatcher’s Victims” against the tide of rose-tinted eulogising was taking place in George Square, I arranged to join one of my friends beforehand. We met in [pub name redacted], as it afforded us the comfort, prices, quality, and drinks selection that encourage us to be repeat customers of [name of chain redacted]. I also regularly visit [other pubs owned by the same chain] in this city, and have come to expect a certain standard of service from the pubs bearing your name. On this occasion, I feel badly let down.

I had been at the bar for approximately half an hour, enjoying a pint of Thatchers Gold cider as I have a keen sense of humour. We could see the Square through the window – one of the key benefits of windows being their inherent transparency – and watched as the crowd outside grew in number. Stepping forward, we tried to get a better look at the bus from which the speakers would address us. Then we returned to the bar, and I resumed the position I had just left, standing with my back resting against the counter as I faced the door onto the Square.

This was when I was suddenly and angrily accosted from behind, by someone whom I presume to be the manager due to his shirt and tie. He looked like he would have been more at home wearing a tracksuit and sovvy rings, accessorised with a half-drank bottle of Buckfast and a Burberry cap, but I try not to be prejudiced. He aggressively enquired “Could you take your shirt off please?”

Although he did use the word “please”, it was evidently not a polite request. I am not much of an exhibitionist, and don’t usually take my clothes off in public. At the very least, I expect to be handed a couple of notes if that is all you want, or if you want more then you can buy me dinner and a few drinks first. I have my morals. In truth, I now regret that I did not immediately comply in a mock-seductive manner, while whistling that well-known piece of music, “The Stripper.”

Instead, being a rational human capable of intelligent and reasoned debate, I questioned his request. I have been wearing this shirt for about two years – although I take it off and wash it quite regularly, as I take a pride in my personal hygiene. In all of that time of wearing it in the streets of various cities, in numerous shops, to music and comedy gigs, in the vicinity of members of several police forces, and in dozens of pubs and clubs – in all of that time, in all of those locations – I have received no complaint about the message it contains.

Indeed, the only time people pass comment is to register agreement. This ranges from “Nice shirt” to “Do we add a tick if we agree?” to “Hear hear!” and sometimes just a nod and an “Aye.” The broad spectrum of society to have approved of the sentiment include families with small children, little old ladies, office workers, manual labourers, weekend shoppers, huge numbers of pub drinkers, and – while sworn to not display an opinion – nobody in the constabulary in Glasgow, Manchester, Nottingham, London, or Brighton has spoken to me about it.

I was taken aback, therefore, to be asked to remove this garment in a pub where I had been drinking for thirty minutes without incident. I certainly did not anticipate that the demand would be issued so rudely.

I asked the manager (as I will presume him to be) what the problem was. I was very calm, and eager to discover the cause for the sole disapproval I have encountered against the sentiment expressed across my attire. He could have politely explained, however his Napoleon complex must have kicked in, as he just glared at me and in an equally hostile tone said “I don’t want it in my pub.”

I don’t want my country governed by a party nobody here voted for, but we don’t always get what we want.

I want to say that he was jumped-up, but had he jumped up then maybe we would have seen eye-to-eye. I do not want to say that he was short, but if you want to promote him to the next level you can do so by giving him a crate to stand on. I do not like to get personal, but nor do I expect to be spoken to in such a way when a clear and polite request would have sufficed,

His argument, and he was unduly keen to argue, was that “I’ve got kids in this pub.”

Whether they were his kids, underage drinkers, or if they had read a statement that – really – they should be educated in the socio-political background of, was not apparent to me. Words are not offensive in or of themselves, it is context that gives them meaning. I thought that perhaps I could try and explain that to these young and impressionable minds. However, I quickly glanced around, and could only see people that I would comfortably assume to be adults. It is possible that these kids had tried the old Beano comic trick, of sitting atop one another’s shoulders and donning a large raincoat, in order to slip into your pub unnoticed. If so, your employee must be commended for his eagle eye, as I failed to spot them.

This interloper – your employee – was evidently not in a mood for any form of casual conversation or meaningful debate. I tried to explain that I was just leaving anyway, but he glared at me with such vehemence that the best example I can provide by way of illustration is that of General Zod in the second Superman film. As he tried to penetrate me with his evil rays of Heat Vision, I decided that I was now bored with attempting to engage him, and simply left.

I joined the rally, where nobody complained about my shirt, and stood still for the numerous amateur, hobbyist, and professional photographers who asked if they could take pictures of it. This has become the norm, I have discovered. There must be close to a hundred photos of my shirt now in the possession of strangers. Some of these photographers have been children with camera phones, and at the “Axe The Bedroom Tax” march a fortnight ago one mother asked if her ten-year-old son could take a photo. My shirt is not offensive, the policies and dogma of an unelected government are. This is just a succinct way of summing up wide-reaching disgruntlement.

After the rally, I went to another pub not owned by [name of chain redacted], and asked the barman outright if my apparel would pose a problem for him. He laughed as if it was the silliest question he had been asked all day, which – being in a Glasgow pub – it probably was.

I do not expect that you will do anything regards this complaint, and certainly do not foresee any admonishment of the staff member involved. I just wish to register my unhappiness with the way I was spoken to in a pub chain that I previously held in very high regard. I will not be back in [pub name redacted] in future, and I think from reading this letter you will see that I have the conviction to stay true to that. If your employee believes that the invisible children in his pub are more loyal customers than me, then he can rely on them for his custom.

All in all, I found it to be a very disappointing experience. Although, not quite as disappointing as the media’s canonising of the woman who destroyed communities with her disregard for the lives and the livelihoods of the miners and the steel workers; who condemned Nelson Mandela and strongly praised General Pinochet; who covered up for the injustices seen in the wake of Hillsborough; and who died with the blood of the Belgrano on her hands.

If you would like to reply to this, I will be keen to read your response. Certainly, you may like to go some way to restoring my faith in your brand – if indeed you would prefer to retain my future custom.

Yours faithfully,

[Me]

 

 


Diary Of An Anti-Tory Protestor – Part 5

“Remember Thatcher’s Victims”, George Square, 17th April 2013

They planted Thatcher today. Actually, I think they burned her. Either way, I do not care, and I suspect neither does she. The BBC and most of our media and politicians seem to be eulogising her to the point that it would be more honest of them if they just stood there masturbating while shouting her name. It sickens me. This woman was anti-gay, condemned Mandela, and befriended Pinochet – and those are just the first three that spring to mind, while trying to avoid the mention of steel, and unions, and pit closures.

This was an event set up to remember the victims of her years in power, and the injustices propagated and communities blighted by her endeavours. It was not another “death party” as seen on the day the news broke, being fully organised with the agreement of the council and the attendance of the police. It would be a peaceful rally, a chance to reflect on the pain she heartlessly and relentlessly inflicted, and a call to arms to rise against the still-living Tories who continue to assault us with Thatcherism. Tories who cannot fund care for disabled people, but have no qualms about spending ten million pounds on a public funeral for a stateswoman who was extremely unpopular. That is obscene, and must be strongly condemned. As must their plan to spend fifteen million quid on a museum in her name.

rally thatcherite cameron meme

When I told my friend that I was going to a protest rally, she warned me to stay safe. “It’s peaceful protesting!” I told her. “Rallying, chanting, listening, with banners and placards.”

She replied with a statement and question that amused me for the inherent absurdity that is implied: “But she is dead! What can that do?”
Indeed, what can it do? It gave me visions of protestors demanding Thatcher’s resurrection, as if that was the cause of our disquiet. Instead, I answered in a series of short sentences that – even when I come to edit this for the blog – sum up my opinion succinctly:

“She is dead, Thatcherism isn’t. The Tories continue to destroy lives with policies that do not and cannot work. This is visible dissent. That people are not happy. That we will lock arms and prevent evictions if people can’t afford the bedroom tax. That Scotland does not want, does not need, and cannot afford nuclear weapons. That the defence spending on Trident would cover ALL benefit cuts. That there is no money to prevent homelessness but they spend ten million on a funeral. That a YES vote next year will rid us of the Tories forever. Fuck them, fuck their dogma, fuck their propaganda and their lies, and fuck all they stand for. THAT is why I will be protesting”

And that is why I was protesting. I have had enough. I want my voice to be heard. I want all our voices to be heard – this government is shamelessly hypocritical, appallingly self-serving, and cruelly destructive. I will be taking every justifiable opportunity to swell ranks and provide visible evidence of discontent. We will succeed in reversing their unworkable decrees, we will oust them permanently from power by declaring ourselves independent next year, or I will gradually lose faith and heart (in whichever order) and see where life takes me. The one thing that strikes me, though, is something I posted earlier, after someone looked at a picture taken today and jokingly branded us “losers.” That is: if you don’t stand and fight for what you believe, who will?

rally me lynne grant Above: Lynne, me, and Grant. Photo: Adele McVay Photography Ltd

After three previous protests where I had held my “F_CK THE TORIES” flag aloft, struggling to fold it and grasp it against the wind to keep it readable, I knew I needed to adapt it. Either I could run some kind of weighting device along the bottom edge, to prevent it flapping loosely in the breeze, or I could use the provided channel and mount it onto a pole. This afternoon, I bought a bamboo torch in a low-price shop, cut out the torch, and then found that the diameter of the cane was too large to fit. It would affect the aesthetic to merely staple the flag down the length of the pole, and I live near to a small garden centre. I quickly nipped round there, taking the flag with me.

The proprietor was very helpful, and I explained straight away what I wanted and why. He ably assisted me, watching as I attempted to thread the flag onto the end of the pole he provided. It was finicky, but I could see that it would comfortably fit. As I persevered with it, he gestured to another customer, with whom he had been chatting at the counter. “He’s trying to read what it says,” he told me.

I looked at the other customer. “I could tell him, but he might not agree.”

“I can read it,” retorted the man, adding without malice “But you can add the other parties an’ all!”

I asked the salesman how much I owed him, anticipating it to be a few pennies, and not more than a couple of hundred. He graciously waived the cost, and I thanked him by telling him to watch out for it on the evening news. He said that I could tell them where I got the cane. True to that, and in the spirit of supporting local business, please visit Anniesland Garden Centre if you are looking for something they might have. I am not sure if it made the televised news, but the online report is here.

rally STV FTT stillAbove: Screen grab from the STV video on their site, showing Grant and me.

I headed into the town to meet my friend Grant, who was already in a pub adjacent to the square. I shy away from naming most businesses in my blogs, as I detest advertising and try to avoid helping any national corporation make money. I briefly considered naming this particular pub though, due to the incredibly rude manager I encountered there today. I shan’t be back.

I had been at the bar with Grant for twenty minutes or half an hour, and we briefly wandered over to the window to see if things had started outside. Back at the bar, leaning against it and facing the door, I was accosted from behind by a member of the staff. He was a short and stand-offish wee man, who would have looked more at home in a cap and tracksuit than in his shirt and tie. He asked me to remove my shirt, and it is to my regret that I didn’t playfully comply while whistling “The Stripper.”

Instead, I enquired why – being a rational man capable of reasoned debate, and curious as to what offence he could have taken that nobody in the local contabulary, in a handful of shops, in the streets, or in any other pub has. He belligerently told me that he “didn’t want it in is pub,” revealing himself to be the kind of Napoleon-complexed prick that life is too short (pun fully intended) to bother engaging with. I told him that I was just leaving anyway, and said that I couldn’t see what the problem was. This was all in good humour on my part, as I am interested in hearing intelligent views that challenge my own. Instead, he threw some further glares at me and ranted that there were children in his pub.

I didn’t see any children, but I also didn’t waste much time looking. I could argue that we should educate children as to why a great many of us accept and agree with the sentiment behind the “Fuck the Tories” statement – and that words are just words, it is context that gives them meaning – but the interruption from this aggressively rude interloper had already bored me. I left Grant to finish his pint, and walked out into the square. In future, I will be taking my custom to pubs who cater for an exclusively adult clientele.

Once I have caught up with the blogs, I might write the company a letter of complaint for my own (and perhaps your) amusement.
[Edit: I have, and you can read it here. I managed to rewrite this in a far more tongue-in-cheek way for them.]

rally shirt back Above: The offending shirt. Photo: Mean Street Photography

Contrary to my other recent experiences, there were almost no flags to be seen in the 200-strong crowd. I caught up with my friend Lynne, Grant joined us, and we stood near the south-west corner of the square, listening to the speakers. Thanks to the length of cane I had elected to buy (and then been gifted), this saw me standing at 6-foot-2 with my arm raised, hand clasping a 4-foot flagpole – like some living Glaswegian Statue of Liberty.

I had thought the back of my shirt was popular photography matter, but this paled in comparison with the flag. There must have been two dozen snappers took photos of it – the camera-phone owners, the hobbyists, and the professionals. With a strong breeze that kept changing direction, I did what I could to aid their shots, trying to hold the flag at an angle where the wind would keep it flying straight and the wording visible. This worked with some degree of success, the downside being that in most of these pictures I am looking gormlessly up at the flag. I think I became the second-most photographed person in the UK today, the first being dead.

With all of the attention that it was receiving, I soon found myself approached by a two-person camera crew who asked if they could interview me for STV. I agreed, and they immediately asked my reasons for being here today. I answered as honestly as I could, making the pertinent points that leapt to mind and that I have detailed above. I know that I hesitated at times, and did not answer as eloquently or as articulately as I had when pressed (by the Scotland On Sunday) as to my involvement at the weekend’s Scrap Trident demo. In hindsight, I wish I had told them that the Bedroom Tax “does not affect me, and yet it does, as it affects us all” – inasmuch as it is to the detriment of the welfare state, it will cause untold rises in homelessness and crime, and will have other knock-on effects too. Their published report, with a handful of inaccuracies, is here.

They describe me by saying of the crowd “some [were] clinging to flags … criticising the Tories with scrawled expletives.” It may be an expletive, but you can clearly see from all of my photos that the word is censored, which was deliberate on my part precisely so that it could be shown or published in news reports. As for it being “scrawled,” that must be the neatest scrawl in the history of doctors’ signatures.

FTT flag george square Photo: Lynne McKinstray

I thought I may be able to make my point about the tax to the circulating BBC crew, but they steadfastly avoided me twice – firstly to interview Lynne, and then to interview Grant. Sometimes, the BBC post on their site that they are looking for audiences for debate shows. These generally request that membership of any political organisation is made known, along with information about whether your mind is already made up on that specific issue. This is in their pursuit of balanced opinion, which has been sorely lacking in their sycophantic news coverage lately. I can only presume that they decided against interviewing me as my opinion was written firmly across my attire.

It turned out afterwards that it had been BBC Alba, so fuck it, no-one will ever see it anyway…

rally sheridan bus posters Above: Tommy Sheridan and posters naming the victims of Thatcher. Photo: Mean Street Photography

Tommy Sheridan was one of the speakers, and said what I wish more people in the public eye could have said recently:

“Some have said it is distasteful to celebrate the death of an old woman. And I was brought up to respect people, but it’s clear Mrs Thatcher did not respect us. She didn’t respect the workers she sacked, or the hunger strikers who died, when she was in power. We’re here to say ‘We don’t respect you either’. We won’t shed any crocodile tears over her death. But now we must look forward. Just as we united to fight Thatcher’s poll tax, I would urge you all to unite and fight Cameron’s bedroom tax as well.” – Source.

We left after the rest of the speeches, once the final musical act was on, and headed to a pub that was not the one I had been in earlier. Lynne and her friend were already there, having left before us, and as I sat down she brought up the potentially-offensive nature of my shirt. I called the barman over, showed it to him, and asked if it was okay if I continued to wear it in his pub.

He looked at me quizzically, smiled, and said that it was fine. Crisis averted.

Later, when I called into the nearby supermarket on my way home, someone else came up to me and smilingly told me “Great shirt! Be more assertive.”

Be more assertive.

I think that is the purpose of writing these blogs. I know that many of you are unhappy. I know that, at a basic level, most of us want to see the same things. Over on Facebook, I just read the gripe that “I’m still annoyed at £10m being spent wining and dining millionaires at MT’s funeral.”

If you are that annoyed, protest. Channel the anger. Show them they are not popular. If enough of us do it, they cannot deny us.

rally flag chambers Photo: Mean Street Photography

At the time of writing, it is three weeks to the day since the Daily Record published my tweet and the story of the retweet that started this ball rolling. As it did not adequately convey the fulllness of my disillusionment, I have resorted to taking direct action where possible. I have decided to stand with my fellow countrymen and fight for the rights that our forefathers battled for; to strengthen the numbers of the disaffected taking to the streets and proving that there is a problem with this government and their policies. This problem can only be addressed if enough of us make our opposition heard.

It has been twenty-one days, and I have taken part in two marches, a hastily-arranged protest, and a rally. In that time, the items upon which I have written “Fuck The Tories” have been photographed at least a hundred times. I have been printed by the Record, photographed by the Record, interviewed for the Scotland On Sunday newspaper, and for Scottish Television. Maybe it is because I stand out that people think I have something to say. I don’t want to stand out.

I don’t want to stand out, because I don’t want to be the only one proclaiming these views. I want, in the spirit of the original punk movement, a growing number of people to join me – physically, and in wearing their contempt for all in the street to see.

I will continue to demonstrate where and when I can, because I believe that we are in the right. I believe that we can make a difference. There is strength in numbers. I did not get here overnight, I got here when years of anger forced me to take action.

If you are angry too, then I hope you will soon join me. One way or another, we can change this.

 

vote yes


Diary Of An Anti-Tory Protestor – Part 4

Scrap Trident, George Square, 13th April 2013

I had to do a bit of research before deciding whether or not to join this demo. My previous excursions into public protest had been based on long-held beliefs: that the Bedroom Tax is unworkable and must be abandoned; and that David Cameron is a reprehensible cunt and that I should seize any chance to let him know in person.

My knowledge of Trident is less intricate. While I am opposed in principle to Scotland housing nuclear weapons, it is not something that I previously felt strongly enough about to merit my presence at one of their many protests. Every so often, there is a story on the news about activists (or maybe they should be termed deactivists) being arrested for blockading the naval base at Faslane where Trident is housed. These people invariably look slightly “hippier” than me, and while I am glad they are prepared to make their resistance known, I had no interest in joining them.

As previously asserted, I have recently reached the conclusion that the best way to oppose the Tories is to visibly oppose the Tories at every opportunity. This was undeniably an opportunity, to once again show that public opinion runs contrary to their policies. I do not want to blindly march for causes I know nothing of, and so I did a little background reading in advance. It paid off.

Trident sign

None of the friends who had made previous marches were able to make this one, and so I went along by myself. I had posted on Twitter, hashtagging various relevant terms, to see if I knew anybody who would be heading down. That was later picked up on and retweeted by some unknown accounts, resulting in my first trolling. Somebody composed a tweet to me, wrote “RT” at the start of it to make it look like they were simply forwarding what I had written, and then put their own words in my mouth. I forget the exact phrasing now, having blocked all those involved, but trust me when I say that “Keep Trident. We need Trident. RIP Maggie” is not the kind of thing I am likely to post.

I had not been in George Square long before somebody with an armful of them offered me a placard to carry, and I accepted. I had my flag with me too, although it was still folded up in my back pocket. Looking around at the assembling demonstrators, I was happy to see my friend Alasdair in the crowd, and I went over to join him. He was marching alongside the red banner of one of Scotland’s socialist parties, although I had to rely on the photographic records below to check which one. As far as names go, sometimes it can get a bit “People’s Front Of Judea/Judean People’s Front” when it comes to parties using the words “Scottish” and “Socialist.”

 

As we began marching, it became apparent that we were amid the quietest section of the crowd. There was little in the way of mass chanting or protest songs, but with Thatcher dead and not yet buried there were a couple of attempts to start a singalong of “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead.” The key problem there was that nobody knew the lyrics, which did nothing to prevent a few valiant and enthusiastic renditions of what might be the correct words. Whereas, for reasons I am unable to explain, I think I do know the words – at least to the second line, which is where they kept falling down. I kept this information to myself, however.

Soon, and somehow, we had migrated into the realms of another Disney film. In what I think was a group effort, as lines were added by different people until the best ones came together, we began singing “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Trident’s got to go. Now Thatcher’s gone let’s ban the bomb, Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Hi Ho.” It lended itself very easily to repetition, and quickly caught on around us. There was a good sense of cameraderie, and an upbeat atmosphere, although less of the anger and sense of civic pride I had felt during the anti-Bedroom Tax march two weeks previous. Somebody with access to the Scrap Trident Twitter page must have been right behind us, as they posted a photo of my shirt.

trident tweet shirt

Once we arrived back in George Square, having marched through and around the city centre, we spread ranks and listened to the various speakers. Then there was music, and more speakers, and more music, and more speakers. They just kept going, and by the third section of speakers a sizeable protion of the crowd had dispersed. Two sections would have been plenty.

As I stood listening to the first couple of sections of speakers, somebody else got a photo of my shirt. This is about the fifth picture I have found online, and that is a tiny fraction of the number actually taken – all by different people. I hope at some point that more folk will join in, and customise their own clothing. I would rather see heartfelt political messages walking up the high street than the names of a dozen faceless corporate brands.

Trident shirt george squarePhoto: Ritchie James Patton

While standing in the square, I was approached by a woman who introduced herself as being from the Scotland On Sunday newspaper. She asked if she could interview me, and I agreed. She wanted to know why I was there, about the statement on my shirt, and what I hoped to achieve, and I made her aware of the views that I have expressed in this and my other recent Anti-Tory blogs. She was familiar with the film “Network” and seemed to appreciate my “Mad as Hell” analogy. When she asked if I thought Thatcher’s death had helped drive support for this particular movement and protest, I answered honestly that “I don’t think it has hindered awareness.”

I was glad that I had read up on the history of Trident before leaving the house, and managed to remember some of the pertinent facts from this particular article. There were a couple of instances where I looked to my friend Al to confirm what I was saying, and he ably assisted by adding points. Like, for example, how they refuse to relocate Trident to Plymouth because of the risk to life, yet at Faslane it is closer to the nearest densely-populated area. It is these double standards, and contempt for Scottish life, that help fuel my dislike of Westminster rule.

trident interviewAbove: Being interviewed for Scotland On Sunday. Photo: Alasdair McDougall

Having handled myself well and answered fully and eloquently, Al approved. I posted about the interview on Facebook, and soon received a reply from one of my comedy friends who tagged her journalist friend and asked if that was who had questioned me. I looked at her profile, and it was. Small world.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, I posted about being interviewed and how, if you write “Fuck The Tories” on your shirt, it is useful to be able to articulate why. A friend asked if this was “Off the back of Tweetgate?”
“No, it is off the back of my shirt,” I replied. The press interest had been totally unrelated, a coincidence.
“Do they not know you are Tweetman?!” she asked, before telling me that she would buy a souvenir edition of the paper, and would I sign it?
“My secret tweet identity is safe! Unless they read this,”  I told her, agreeing that “I will happily sign anything for you, except cheques.”

In the end, the paper ran nothing of what I said, not even twisting my words to suit whatever their agenda may be. Instead, they printed a column reporting on a 12-person conga line that formed an hour after the end of the rally, in “celebration” of Thatcher’s death. I guess that is more newsworthy than a two- or three-thousand-strong march against nuclear weapons and unpopular government mandates. There is a video of the march here.

trident crowdAbove: Al and me, in the crowd. Photo: Scotland On Sunday.

On the Monday following this Saturday protest, there was a scheduled blockade at Faslane, with several hundred people present and forty-seven arrests. I was not part of that protest, although I took the time to read the briefing pack that was issued. I canot now find it to link to, but it is a thorough document detailing precisely how and why to protest, and how to avoid arrest if you want to show support without risking a blemish showing up on future Disclosure Scotland checks. They have done this before, you see.

As much as I disagree with Trident, my priority just now is to urge a rethink of the Bedroom Tax. That ill-thought-out piece of legislation is imminently about to leave people homeless, which will result in increased levels of crime too, as well as damaging families and communities. I also want to help stop the cuts on the welfare state, in particular the immoral activities of ATOS, which are seeing increasing numbers of affected people resort to suicide.

Meanwhile, That Cunt Cameron has just approved plans for a £15 million Thatcher Museum, while the privatisation of the NHS will directly profit a huge number of MPs. As for the myth of benefit “scroungers” – “Most benefit recipient – 60% – are working people who are so poorly paid by their employers or so exploited by their landlords that they can’t manage without state assistance.” Source.

This government is corrupt. It was not democratically elected by majority in England, and it certainly does not represent the views of the people of Scotland, who did not vote for it at all. I do not know how much more I can do, but I do know that – until the referendum in 2014 – I will do what I can to ensure that Scotland votes Yes and breaks away to fully govern itself. Westminster has consistently proved that they do not have the best interests of Scotland or its people at heart.

vote yes

The next protest will be on the day of Thatcher’s funeral. Then there will be speakers at the May Day Parade in Glasgow, and an Anti-Bedroom Tax day of protest on 18th May. I plan to be at them all, and anything else that crops up in-between. I am angry, and I am fed up, and I hope that if you are too then you will join me, as I have joined the thousands of others who got here before me.

“I believe [an independent] Scotland would legalise same-sex marriage. I believe it would reject Trident. I believe it would refuse to accept the victimisation of the poor, the ill and the weak.”
Source.

As far as the current balance of power goes, I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more.

Trident FTT flagPhoto: Robyn Ramsay


Diary Of An Anti-Tory Protestor – Part 3

Margaret Thatcher Goes To Hell, 8th April 2013

Thatcher Maggiedeth

Margaret Thatcher died unexpectedly peacefully, at the age of 87.  I found out about it from a friend who told me succinctly that “Thatcher is dead.” As far as I am aware, Thatcher was dead to Scotland decades ago.

Another of my friends alerted me that “Thatcher has only been in Hell twenty minutes, and already she has shut down three of the furnaces.”

Some of you will remember where you were when you heard the news. I remember where I wasn’t. I wasn’t in George Square, at the impromptu “Death Party.”

This was due to a prior commitment, or rather two (I went to a comedy club in the evening, letting Facebook know that: If you were thinking “I’m only going to Improv Wars at The Stand in Glasgow when Thatcher dies” then TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT.) Otherwise I would have been there with everyone else. I was always taught that you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, and it gives me no pleasure to witness ugly scenes of others revelling in a death, but while I don’t condone it I also don’t condemn it. Had I been there, it would have been to publicise my contempt for the Tory Party and for Thatcherism, rather than to rejoice in the passing of a wee old woman I never met. Nevertheless, I am glad that there was a small gathering and a demonstration of how reviled she was in Scotland.

The parties were roundly condemned by the reprehensible, war-mongering, toadying Tony Blair – whose leadership of New Labour is acknowledged to have broadly perpetuated Thatcherism.

thatcher - my further fb jokes

My own memories of Thatcher are inextricably linked to my childhood; of constantly seeing this cold and heartless woman on the television, and being vaguely aware of her policies. I recall the point when, in the early 1980s, they stopped giving us free cartons of milk at school. Whether this was the residual impact of her infamous “snatcher” actions, or down to various other measures, I cannot now say. I just remember that they started charging us for it, and recall the price gradually increasing.

On that note, a friend went into the nearest pub when the news broke, and asked for a “celebratory post-Thatcher glass of milk.” The barman duly poured it, and said “Since she’s gone, I can just give you this free.” He did.

I grew up in a town near to Ravenscraig – the steelworks that was shut down after the Tory privatisation of British Steel – and, without being at an age of full comprehension, I still personally knew of people who lost jobs and livelihoods as a result. Many of the surrounding communities were irreversibly destroyed. When I was sixteen or seventeen, and increasing in awareness, I discovered punk rock – the soundtrack to a previous generation of disaffected youth. On a Friday night, I religiously watched repeats of “The Young Ones” and its contemporary, one of the finest satirical sketch shows ever aired, “Not The Nine O’Clock News.” I can still quote vast swathes of the latter. These served to corroborate my view of Thatcher as a distant figure who sorely lacked compassion, heading up an inherently prejudiced party. It is, I believe, a mutual lack of compassion that has led to these “Death Parties.” Why should we care about someone who singularly failed to care about us?

thatcher greg hemphill tweet

I won’t mourn her passing, and I am sickened by the eulogising that has gone on since her death. Whoever invented rose-tinted spectacles has been doing a roaring trade this past week. There has been indignation that many of those partying “were not even born when she was ousted from power.” This is one of the weakest arguments I have yet heard, as if none of her legislation, policies, and leadership continue to affect (and disaffect) the people of today. Her legacy is well documented. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, but by way of extreme example, I wasn’t born when Hitler was around – but it doesn’t take much study (or more than a passing brush with the collective knowledge) to know that he was not a particularly nice person. Thatcher does not strike me as having been a particularly nice person. She permanently blighted lives. Regardless of age, that makes her, and her death, relevant to us all.

Thatcher Frankie quote

Rather than celebrate her demise, it seems more potent to me that we use this as a stepping stone to build encouragement for action against the continuing, incredibly damaging, Tory regime. Ding dong, the witch may be dead. But the dead Tory is dead; it is the living ones we need to fight.

On Wednesday 17th April, the government will spunk between eight and ten million pounds on giving her a send-off unrivalled (at least by the attendance of the Queen) since Churchill died. This is the government that tells us we need to cut back as there is no public money available for such basic amenities as housing, health, or alleviating the lives of the disabled. This stunning hypocrisy would be breathtaking, if it were not to be expected from these brazen, self-serving millionaires. Naturally, they will divert funds to see off one of their own. They were already able to claim back nearly £4000 in expenses just for turning up at Parliament during the Easter recess to say nice things about her.

Thatcher Loach quote

During that tribute session, Glenda Jackson MP was the only one who said anything worth listening to, the one to stand up and decry Thatcher for her destruction of working men’s lives and communities.

 

On Wednesday 17th April, at 5pm, I will be in Glasgow’s George Square. There is a mass protest planned at this vile misuse of money – in memory of her thousands of victims, but also a visible public demonstration against Thatcher, against Thatcherism, and against the sheer bloody-minded vindictiveness of an increasingly aloof Tory government. This time, I have deliberately made no other plans. I will be there.

I don’t care about this dead woman. I care about the country I live in, I care about the fundamental tenets of democracy and society, and I care about the steady undermining of a welfare state that was long- and hard-fought for. If you care too, then I hope to see you there.

 

thatcher - my fb jokes

 


Diary Of An Anti-Tory Protestor – Part 2.

Thales, Govan Road, 4th April 2013

I awoke and checked my phone, as I always do. Near the top of my Facebook feed was a post from a friend saying that That Cunt Cameron would be visiting a local contractor involved in Trident. It was a last-minute announcement, based on the schedule that had been released that morning, and I reposted it as “unconfirmed” on a couple of relevant Facebook and Twitter pages. I also reposted it on my own page, mostly because it allowed me to tie it back into this whole tweet thing (asking someone to hit him in the face with a shovel) and make a joke about it.

Govan unconfirmed fb

When he was unelected but nevertheless appointed himself in charge of the UK (including Scotland, where his party returned one solitary MP – the joke being that Scotland has more pandas then Tory MPS, and the pandas have a better chance of increasing their numbers), I had a box of eggs in my fridge. I don’t eat eggs, and they had been left behind by a friend who was staying with me. I let them go out of date, having decided that it would be worth the guaranteed arrest and publicity for the sheer pleasure of pelting them at That Cunt Cameron’s smug face. They sat languishing in the back of the fridge for six months, carefully undisturbed, before a house move meant I had to throw them away. It surprised me none that, in avoiding Scotland (and especially Glasgow) for as long as he possibly could, That Cunt Cameron had revealed himself to be more of a chicken than the original layer of the eggs.

It didn’t take long to look through various social media feeds to find that this was in fact a confirmed appearance, and that there was a hurried effort in place to assemble protestors to greet him. A few texts and phone calls, and I found that my friend Matt had decided to head down. Given the time, my need to shower, and then jump a train, the subway, and walk for twenty minutes, I realised I would miss The Cunt’s arrival but could be there waiting for him to depart. I was in Govan less than ninety minutes later.

I missed his arrival by mere minutes, and it turned out that most of those already present had missed it too. In a move analogous to the way in which he became Prime Minister, he had been quietly slipped in the back door while nobody was really looking.

After having some group photos taken by a couple of pro snappers – one from the Daily Record – it was decided that we would split up, some people waiting by the gate through which he had gone in, others maintaining a presence by the main entrance. Yet others positioned themselves at the roundabout between the two points. However he left, he would see some form of dissent.

Govan protest group pic
Above: Shortly after his arrival through the rear gate. I’m at the back, somewhere under the flag to the immediate right of the banner.

The guy from the Record asked if he could get a photo of the back of my shirt – proudly emblazoned “Fuck The Tories” – and I offered to give him a shot of me holding my flag, a saltire, which is more publication-friendly as I blanked out the “U” in the word “fuck.” He agreed. There is no “u” in “fuck the Tories” because you wouldn’t fuck them with a shitty stick. Not when you could use the claw end of a hammer. There’s an idea for a future shirt – “Fuck the Tories in the head with the claw end of a hammer.” The imagery is more violent than my chosen form of protest, don’t worry. This disclaimer is true, and is also for the benefit of the inevitable government departments who will eventually find and follow my online posts.

The man from the Record then borrowed and handed me a “Yes Scotland” flag, on a pole, and took several dozen shots of me facing various ways while he captured the slogans on both shirt and flag together. To my knowledge, and I have looked, none of those pictures have been published online or in the print edition of the next day’s paper.

My awareness of Scrap Trident protests is probably the same as yours – every so often, there’s a news story about protestors being arrested at Faslane. I disagree with Scotland housing nuclear weapons, especially when we can’t even house all of our citizens, and I think the cost of them is obscene. However, I had never felt strongly enough about it to register any form of support for the disarmament campaign. Buoyed by the experience of marching against the Bedroom Tax five days previously, I decided that any acceptable reason to demonstrate my disgust of the Tories is fair game. This was also my first opportunity to hurl abuse directly at That Cunt Cameron’s smugly disaffected, overly-wealthy face. In theory.

With a couple of hours to kill, bearing in mind that he wouldn’t be leaving immediately, and with the photos all taken, Matt and I walked from one site to another. We talked to some of the other protestors, the mood being generally upbeat despite the close verminous presence of the Prime Monster. Somebody down by the roundabout wrote “Honk if you think David Cameron is a cunt” on the back of a poster. She stood on a traffic island, holding it aloft and eliciting cheers for every passing motorist who sounded their horn in agreement.

Govan birdseye view

After an hour of not much happening, three police meatwagons turned up – riot vans full of brightly-clad cops. I heard that, at the start of the demonstration, the police had asked a couple of people “who’s organised this?” Met with general shrugs and the admission that it had been a last-minute protest pulled together by social media, they’d said “keep it peaceful, eh?” Testament to the attitudes of people who want to ban weapons of mass destruction, it was a very peaceful protest. The arrival of these three riot vans meant that there were now about as many polis as protestors. “Maybe it’s a buddy system,” someone said to me. I concurred, likening it to a game of football where every player is marked by another. “Man on!”

I think the polis lining the gate we were at must have loved overhearing our deliberations, as we watched the vans progress hawk-eyed. “They went down there, but nobody got out, and now they are parked up over there, so that means he will come out this gate – or maybe that gate – and then he will have to go this way, unless he goes that way. Wait, what about over there, is that a way he might go? Hang on, they’re moving. Right, so that must mean he’s coming out that gate, or maybe that gate.” And so it continued, everyone trying to second-guess police tactics that maybe the police themselves weren’t even fully aware of. It bordered on the ridiculous, and I hope the fuzz enjoyed it.

Govan ftt shirt

After a while, we spotted movement in the compound, cars mobilising in a way that suggested an imminent departure. From the other side, a protestor on a bike and others using the less physically-strenuous and faster method of smartphone communications confirmed that the TV crews and journalists were all leaving from the front entrance. Unsure where to stand, not knowing if the sleekit cunt would sneak out as he had sneaked in, Matt and I stood with a dozen or so others at the rear entrance. That was when we saw the entourage pull away and head round the far side of the building.

We ran the short distance along the street to the roundabout, past a bus stop of bemused commuters to where the others were chanting and waving placards, and got there just as the motorcade reached it and pulled away. At first, it wasn’t clear if it was them – they had made it up the street from the main entrance far faster than expected – but who else would be in a sleek motorcade of tinted windows? I did all that was left in me to do, the only thing I really could do in the circumstances, and shouted “BASTARDS!” as loudly as I could. The polisman next to me smiled. I think he saw that it was simultaneously cathartic and pathetic. Therapeutic but, of itself, futile. It was, however, heartfelt. I don’t know what anyone else in my position would have done, and all but one of the people I know weren’t in that position to find out.

Govan Pint fb

They must have hared it up that street to the roundabout, and one of the protestors (with a megaphone) loudly accused them of reckless and dangerous driving, claiming they had sped up on the wrong side of the road. Then there was cheering, and thanks, and the knowledge that we had done something to show that Cameron, his party, and the expenditure on this weaponry are not welcome in our country. Fuck The Tories. I went all that way to see him, and the cunt blanked us.

The photos taken of me never surfaced, despite the potential story there if the Record was to assimilate their article about my tweet with my appearance at protests wearing this slogan. I don’t really need or want the publicity, it just amuses me that they have now been involved twice in my one week of taking action. My one week. The first week. There will be more.  At the very least, we need a radical rethink from Westminster. At the very most, a Yes vote in the referendum will see us rid of the Tories for ever and able to govern our own people based on what we want and know we need. And not based on what some far-off millionaire is doing for the benefit of his school chums.


Diary Of An Anti-Tory Protestor – Part 1

George Square, 30th March 2013

There comes a point in every man’s life – or, at least, I hope there does – when you realise that clicking “like” on shared Facebook photos and statuses is not an adequate or forceful form of protest. My own study of history leads me to believe that women received the vote as much for the roles they fulfilled during the First World War as for their widely-known protest movement. Yet, it is is hard to believe that Emmeline Pankhurst would have been quite so powerful and historically renowned a figure had her cohorts not chained themselves to the railings of Downing Street and instead merely hashtagged #Suffrage on Twitter. On Twitter, due to the limitations of hashtags involving punctuation, it is not even possible to accurately tag it #Women’sSuffrage.

I was aware, through Facebook, of an actual physical protest being held in my city on Saturday 30th March. This was the end of the week in which, as previously documented here, I had sent out a Tweet requesting that someone hit That Cunt Cameron in the face with a shovel, which was subsequently retweeted by an MSP. It was reported in the Daily Record, and then raised at First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament. My involvement, the reasons for my tweet, and the sentiment behind it were not discussed, and the full (lack of) reaction can be read in the follow-up post here. It seems that I had violently and abusively summed up the consensus of growing public opinion.

I can’t remember how the protest first came to my attention, although due to the political motivations of several of my friends and mutual friends, it began appearing on my pages with some regularity. I have since joined the Anti Bedroom Tax Protest In Scotland page, and have long been a follower of the “The last person to enter parliament with honest intentions was Guy Fawkes” page.

 

Last summer, I had bought a couple of Scottish flags, saltire crosses upon the centre of which I stencilled the logo of my favourite band. One of them ended up on stage with them at their Glasgow gig, held aloft during their encore at The Arches to loud cheers. I had planned to do something similar for another band I was seeing in Berlin at Christmas, but never got round to it. With this “spare” flag still in a drawer, I looked it out and wrote “F_CK THE TORIES” across the middle of it. While the back of my shirt has the same phrase uncensored, it occurred to me that self-censoring the first word would make it more publication friendly, should any photographers or cameramen happen to record it. The message is still unmistakeable, and I deliberately used an underscore in place of the “U” so that, if I decide to, I can fill it in later. The task, which I had started when I got in from a late-night comedy show, was finished by about 5am. I slept a few hours, and then dragged myself out of bed and down into the town.

I knew a few people who had said they were going, and another couple of dozen who had clicked “attending” on the facebook page with no real intention of showing up. One of the former, my friend Matt, was also attending his first ever protest, and I had provisionally arranged to meet him. The overall plan was to assemble at the Green, march to George Square, and rally there. I was running a little late, thanks to the company who – due to the frequency with which they announce it – may be known to the uninitiated as “Scotrail Apologise.” This same company is better known to users of social media as “Fuck Scotrail.” Thanks to their sterling inability to run trains to anything even approaching the timetable they set, I made it to the Bridgegate just as the march set off. Matt was, he texted me, next to a large black Scrap Trident banner, and I stood on the corner of the street until I spotted it. This being a protest march and not an orange walk, it was very easy to infiltrate the ranks to cross the marchers and join him.

 

It fair fills you with civic pride to march alongside hundreds – thousands – of others who all care passionately about the same thing. Especially when you know you are in the right. This “Bedroom Tax”, to use the accepted colloquial term, is completely unworkable. The government are demanding people downsize into homes that just do not exist – it has been widely reported that there are tens of thousands of people who are now required to move into a couple of thousand homes. The housing needed – affordable single-bedroom homes – is not physically available in anything even approaching the numbers necessary. Those affected, therefore, will have to make up the resulting shortfall in their rent, on the back of this cut, and if they can’t keep up payments they will face eviction. On the face of it, this does not affect me. I live in a one-bedroom flat. However, on the back of all the other ill-thought-out strategies – involving Workfare, ATOS, the NHS in England, funding for Trident – and the general hypocrisy of Tory rulers who are, largely, millionaires and have little or no idea what life is like on the breadline – I have had enough. This party has one MP in Scotland. One. That is not a mandate to rule, and when That Cunt Cameron installed himself as the Prime Minister I immediately wrote “Fuck The Tories” across the back of a shirt, in the DIY protest spirit of the original punk movement.

 

With growing anger, I have watched as the Tories have systematically undermined the entirety of the welfare state – rights that were hard fought for by our recent ancestors. On the back of my infamous tweet, mentioned in the blog already linked to, and the general apathy with which it was mostly met, I realised that it is time to protest in a more visible form. I don’t mean, and am not advocating, masks and molotov cocktails, but just being on the streets and marching and swelling the ranks by the number of one. It is my belief that people are taking to the streets to protest the Bedroom Tax, because if they don’t then inordinate numbers of people will be forced to LIVE on the streets. That’s when homelessness increases, and then crime increases, while businesses fold as people divert disposable income into living expenses. It’s time to stand and fight.

This is how I came to find myself in the midst of three thousand people, wearing a shirt and holding aloft a flag that both state my view clearly – Fuck The Tories. I didn’t join in with any chants, partly from being self-conscious, and largely because everything I wanted to say was clearly written upon my person.

msp shirt protest

To my mind, this is the part in the film “Network” where he says “I want you to get up right now, go to the window, open it, stick your head out and yell ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more!’ I want you to get mad!”

I want you to get mad. This affects us all, directly or indirectly. You don’t have to support the SNP or want independence to realise that this whole Bedroom Tax fiasco is unjust and totally unworkable.

 

When we got to the Square, I bumped into or met up with another few friends. My friend McGovern is no stranger to socialism and protest marches, and he joined us to listen to the various speakers being introduced by comedian Janey Godley. I found the pair of us in one of the photographs that was circulated online after the event.

msp protest circled me mcgovern

At least four people took pictures of the back of my shirt – they got my best side – and three of them had the courtesy to ask first. When I went home afterwards, I stopped at a local shop to pick up some messages. A wee woman came up to me from behind and said “Do we just add a tick if we agree?”

Like I said, the feeling is widespread. If you feel that passionately, then do something. Make yourself heard. Stand up for what you believe to be right. Stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. Today, for the first time in my life, I realised that I feel prepared to lock arms with people and prevent evictions, if it comes to it. I’ve had enough.

I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more.

 

bedroom tax meme


Repercussions Of Retweeting Abuse.

This is a follow-up to my 21st Dubious Claim To Fame post, in which my request that someone smack That Cunt Cameron in the face with a shovel was forwarded by an MSP. The story was published in the Daily Record on Wednesday 27th March (page four.) On the Thursday, I received the first – and so far only – criticism for what I had written. It didn’t attack anything I said in the original tweet, or talk about the subsequent minor publicity, instead picking me up on a sentence I’d written in the blog post linked to.

I googled the email address and name of the commentor, discovering him to be an apparently well-respected author of (it seems) books on subjects as diverse as marketing techniques and the Titanic. He appeared to be accusing me of instigating anti-English racism because I had suggested that the majority of Cameron’s supporters live in the south of that country. I maintain that it is not possible to be racist to a specific geographical district, as the very term suggests an inherent prejudice against all of a country’s inhabitants. I have also made no mention of (nor exhibit) any general dislike of English people, or of their national character traits, and my statement related to the voting patterns of a particular area. The nationality of these voters does not factor. Here is what I believe to be the contentious sentence:

Show me a person who approves of, likes, or voted for David Cameron, and I will show you somebody who lives in the south of England.

I amended this accordingly, and inserted the word “probably” in front of the word “lives.” I also replied to the poster’s comment in full and offered to engage in further discussion. To date, as I write this a fortnight later on 14th April, I have heard nothing more about it, (or about the fact he posted it against the index of articles and not the blog in question.) This makes me glad, as to be racist against the English I would have to decide whether to base it on birthplace, current location, parental nationality, all of those, a combination, or some other criteria. Frankly, that is far too much effort, and involves far too many decisions. I’m just going to stick to hating the majority of all humanity, and in particular hypocritical or patronising figures of authority. With that in mind, you can read the comment and my response here (opens in new window) or in the screenshot below,

tweet blog comments censored

I have also heard nothing negative (and, in the interest of balance, nothing positive from people I don’t already know) despite having my Twitter username published alongside my tweet. If anyone disagreed with the sentiment of my words, it was very easy to let me know. Simply searching online for the story brings this blog up at the very top of the results page, and yet that one comment is the only feedback I have received. In the meantime, it started to bother me that – of all the things I write online: the carefully-worded and thoughtfully-edited blogs; the one-liners and jokes; the pithy statements, insightful observations, aggressive criticisms – the piece of writing getting most attention just now, comparatively, is neither very clever nor very subtle. It is far from my finest work. Hopefully it is not the epitome of my writing career. It did, at least, allow me to have a bit of fun – see the screenshot below.

tweet satire

On the Saturday of that week, I went out marching in protest against the Bedroom Tax, wearing my “Fuck The Tories” shirt which was much-photographed that day. There is a dedicated blog about that protest, the first in a series as I join and write about further protests against this Tory Government who, with only one MP elected in Scotland, do not have a democratic right to rule here. As I was posting on Twitter that day, I got a message from a girl I know. She told me that the issue of my tweet had been raised in Parliament, where she works, brought up at First Minister’s Questions a few days before.

tweet Ruth Davidson FMQ

I asked her if there is a public record, like Hansard, and later checked directly. The Public Information Office replied quickly to my email and informed me that: “The Scottish Parliament equivalent of the Hansard is called the Official Report and is generally available within four hours of a meeting of the Parliament finishing.  You can find the Official Report on our website at this address: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/OfficialReport.aspx Chamber business is also recorded and made available to watch online here: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/newsandmediacentre/30931.aspx.”

To save you some time, here is a YouTube link to the exact point where the Tory Ruth Davidson MSP mentions it, and the full transcript  can be found in the Official Report for 28th March 2013. As I later discovered, the Tories are not blameless when it comes to ill-considered tweets, in their case sectarian ones. This hypocrisy, of course, did not stop the Tories from gloating about it on their website. The Scottish Express printed an article about it too, but it all focussed on the issue of the retweet and the actions of MSPs rather than on very much of what I wrote, far less why I wrote it. I am very glad that I did not mention Robin Hood Airport, this is a level of publicity and scrutiny that I am comfortable dealing with. I don’t really need a two-year criminal trial with multiple appeals and vast press coverage.

tweet Tory Hypocrisy

My friend further elaborated on her message to me, explaining why she felt unable to tell me publicly about it and saying that the MSP in question, Derek Mackay, had been present in the public gallery at the time and “looked mortified.” Despite it being a casual throwaway (yet heartfelt) remark, I do seem to have accidentally generated quite a lot of hilarity among my friends. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

As for the original blog, it has had 109 views as of today, and (excluding encrypted searches, which don’t show up in the stats) nineteen people have found it using the search terms below.

tweet blog searches

What this whole thing has been, apart from an unintended but appreciated source of amusement, is a personal catalyst. It has become clear to me that – except perhaps for the work of Anonymous – online revolution is close to no revolution at all, and that it will take physical action and organised protest to make our voices heard. The Tories have no mandate here. They are enforcing unworkable policies that affect us all. People are taking to the streets to protest the Bedroom Tax, because if they don’t then inordinate numbers of people will be forced to LIVE on the streets. That’s when homelessness increases, and then crime increases, while businesses fold as people divert disposable income into living expenses.

Somebody, somewhere up the line, decades before I was born, stood and marched and shouted and rallied so that if I got sick, or lost my job, or had been born (or became) less abled, then I could still live without having to starve and freeze and sleep on the streets while I found my feet again. Someone I don’t know fought for that – for me, and for you, and for all of us. Now it is under threat, I consider it my duty to fight for it too. These were hard won rights, and we can’t let that count for nothing. If you too have had enough, then lend your weight to the peaceful but increasing public protests. It’s time to fight back.


Dubious Claims To Fame – 21

I forget precisely what new story inspired my latest vitriolic social-networking chastisement of the leader of the government which nobody in my country voted for.

It was something to do with more cuts imminently about to take effect, further destruction of whatever last bastions of hope still remain, or the perceived abolition of the entire welfare state and all of its many benefits – benefits in the sense of positive attributes and not, as has recently become the norm, a filthy word to be spat out in a mixture of contempt and disgust. In hindsight, I think it was mention of the JobCentre having to send increasing numbers of people to Food Banks.

Demoralised and worn-down by the policies of our unelected Prime Monster and his millionaire cohorts, I have long since abandoned any formulation of argument and resorted to wearing a German army shirt adorned on the back with the handwritten, Punk-era-inspired epithet “Fuck The Tories.” I have also taken to referring to that cunt Cameron as “that cunt Cameron.” This is a misnomer, as – to quote a Jimmy Carr heckler put-down – I doubt he has the depth or the ability to give pleasure.

It was in this spirit that, fed up of more depressing pronouncements about how these seven-figures-rich, expense-claiming bunglers are “in this together” with people who are working every available hour in order to starve and freeze, I posted the following to my Twitter page:
“Could one of you be good enough to hit that cunt Cameron in the face with a shovel, please? Maybe a couple of times? Quite hard?”

It was a throwaway line, the kind of silly request that – tallied with extreme violence – characterises many of my posts to Twitter, Facebook, and which colours the jokes and stories I have developed over the past 29 months as a part-time, largely unpaid, stand-up comedian. If you follow my blog specific to those experiences, you are probably aware that my only  journalistic review called me “fond of absurdity and with more than a hint of menace.”

As I checked the “connect” sub-page of Twitter, to see if I had had any kind of response to it, I saw that it had been retweeted – forwarded – by my wee cousin. This was of no surprise to me, as she has an equally abject hatred of the Tories – being, as she is,  Scottish and of voting age.

The tweet was then retweeted by a “Derek Mackay MSP.”

Who? Never heard of him. I know what an MSP is, though.

At first, I presumed it was a spoof account – the kind of humorous, satirical account that alleges to be the new pope, or the JobCentre, or my local council, and posts a slew of witty, insightful, scathing, or absurd comments. That seemed the most likely occurrence, until I noticed that this account has a blue “tick” next to it, signifying that it has been verified as accurately portraying the notable person named. Possibly, this account had been hacked, then. Certainly, my post sat awkwardly amidst a stream of dry information about conference attending, going for a swim before attending a conference, and a trip to Dundee.

It was unusual enough, and raised my interest sufficiently, that I took a few screenshots on both my laptop and my phone.

MSP retweet

The next evening, I was out with my wee cousin. I told a few people that I had been retweeted by an MSP, and at the point of checking I noticed that that particular notification had gone. I laughed aloud, figuring he must have changed his mind, and thought nothing more of it. Whether it had been deliberately posted by this MSP, or by someone pertaining to be him, it had now been removed. I joked that maybe it showed the true breadth and depth of feeling in this country, when even the elected members of our parliament can’t abide their Westminster counterparts.

Today, Wednesday 27th March, I met a friend for coffee. Doing some messages after that, I happened to look at my Twitter interactions page, and saw a message from one of my regular comedy colleagues. I thought he was alluding to publication in some obscure local rag, and it took a second glance to realise that he was using the common colloquialism to refer to the Glasgow Daily Record. In my haste to buy a copy from the nearest newsagent, I unsuccessfully tried to cross Union Street three times without detouring the five metres to the traffic lights, and managed to step worryingly close into the path of a moving bus while doing so.

msp iain

As soon as I bought it, I turned to page four. There, indeed, was a short article about an MSP retweeting me. As soon as I got home I posted pictures of the tweet (screenshot) and of the article itself. On Facebook, it has been shared by nine of my friends and led to something of folk-hero status. On Twitter, it has been passed on less times, but with equal amounts of praise from those who have read it. Considering the Record included my Twitter username, it would have been very easy for people to object directly. At the time of writing, nobody has. I suspect they are all too busy working out whether they pay for heating, food, clothing, or fuel this week – being as it is not quite payday, and we can’t all be millionaire MPs with expense accounts.

Show me a person who approves of, likes, or voted for David Cameron, and I will show you somebody who probably lives in the south of England.

My friend McGovern has made me realise that  I can extract, as a poster quote should I ever succeed enough in comedy to require one:
“Bile” – The Deputy Leader of the Scottish Conservatives
And, thanks to the adjective they used, I can also include:
“Comic” – The Daily Record.

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I am considering whether, on the back of the Tory’s comments as reported in that article, I should write to Alex Salmond in support of this Derek Mackay MSP.

Firstly, I do not want him to lose his job over this. It would be good if he could just admit that this was an error, and move on. God knows, there are more important democratic matters at hand. Like the fact the UK prime minister heads a party that had one MP returned from our entire country. Scotland did not vote for this government.

Secondly, I genuinely believe that this was an error on the part of Derek Mackay MSP. Not only did this retweet sit at odds with everything else he has posted, so far as I could see, he also had to be fully instructed on how to remove the tweet from his timeline. This is evidenced by the screenshot below. To me, that demonstrates a basic failing in knowing how to use the site, supporting my theory that this was an accident. On a smartphone, it could have been a simple slip of the thumb.

Thirdly, it borders on being inconceivable that any politician, by the very virtue of being a politician, would post anything so fundamentally unequivocal. Even if it happened to be his personal opinion, of which I have no knowledge. Deliberately retweeting this could be tantamount to career suicide, and at best it would be a foolish move for someone so open to public and press scrutiny. I very much doubt that this was intentionally retweeted.

While I decide if further press coverage merits me writing in support of this man and defending him for making what I believe to be a genuine mistake (and not even a mere oversight of judgement), I took the liberty of sending him a short message of support directly. Unsure how to word it, and trying to convey the right sentiment, I opened with my sincere desire that he is not unduly disciplined for this matter. I wasn’t sure how to end, though, and I suspect I may have undermined that sincerity with my closing sentence. I hope not, it just seemed apposite.

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My overall response, naturally, was to post the following general advice to all of Twitter (well, to my 331 followers anyway) :
“If you’re in a position of public standing, it is inadvisable to retweet messages containing “offensive” language & requests for violence.”

I really don’t think he meant to.

[There is now a follow-up to this piece, which can be read here.]

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