Two weeks ago, a couple of guys from the water board chapped my door and asked me to check if my cold water was running.
There has been an issue with the pressure in my tenement, and they were trying to ascertain – not for the first time – if the boundary stopcock outside the close entrance was affecting supply when they turned it. On that occasion, it was not. I still had water coming from my taps – in truth, the best place to have water coming from when it is in your home.
The guys thanked me and, as I left some minutes later to go about my day’s business, I passed them spraypainting around the metal plate on the ground outside. I thought no more about it.
On the other side of the street, a digging crew has appeared recently and begun laying a new gas main. I surmise it to be a gas job on account of the size and length of trench they have dug, and due to the large yellow plastic piping that is on site. Their workspace is cordoned off using orange and white striped barriers. Last week, an unmarked white works van pulled up outside my front window and offloaded half a dozen blue plastic barriers and a couple of temporary traffic signs. I was curious to know what was going on, having received no notification of work to be carried out in the vicinity.
I presumed it to be preparation by Scottish Water, given that they had marked the ground, due to the different type of barrier and the quantity left, and because the crew working over the road are – well, working over the road. It made no sense for them to mark out a second site while tied up with the first, the replacement of the main clearly some way from being completed.
If water maintenance was required, it would mean erecting barriers that would severely impede access into this building. If I was also going to lose my supply, I would like to know when and for how long, which I do not think is an unreasonable request. Shortly after the equipment was delivered, I called Scottish Water.
“Are you about to dig up the pavement right outside the front door?”
The girl checked her computer. “No, the only work in that street is for gas. Phone the Scottish Gas Network.”
I thanked her and called them.
“Are you about to dig up the pavement right outside the front door?”
“No, that’s not us, we’re working over the road. Try Scottish Water.”
I called Scottish Water a second time. I explained, again, why I initially thought it was them and why my call to the Gas Network confirmed my suspicions. The girl this time checked another system available to her.
“Oh yeah, it is us.”
“Am I going to lose my water supply, and if so, when?”
“We usually put letters through before we start work.”
“And you usually don’t drop barriers at a site until you’re ready to start work.”
“I’ll see if someone can phone you back.”
“Try that, but I’m not convinced they’ll be able to work the buttons.”
I posted the above summation of two hours of conversations onto social media. A friend revealed she works for the water company, and informed me that these days many works can be done without switching the water off. When I gave her more detail she provided an in-depth explanation. I was grateful for that, because Scottish Water never did return my call. The pavement was dug up the next day, after I had gone out, the disruption not affecting me personally as the job was done by the time I came home. Considering they were replacing a communication pipe, their own communication was sorely lacking.
Full credit to the Scottish Gas Network though. They had an engineer contact me promptly, from an unblocked mobile number, to say that the barriers were not theirs but that they would be working on my side of the street at a later date. On my side it will only be a partial replacement, and he did not have details to hand about whether that will involve loss of service. As promised, he did then check the blueprints the next morning and left me a voicemail (and his direct contact number to field any questions) to say that this future work will not involve my tenement or the two east of it.
It is not difficult, in this technological age, to share information effectively or communicate easily. Too many large corporations have yet to master it.
I applied for my provisional driving license as I turned seventeen, receiving it once I reached the legal age to take lessons.
I was not champing at the bit to learn, counting down the days as some of my peers did. It was just something that was done – celebrate the milestone birthday, obtain license, find an instructor, book test, be allowed on the roads. My older cousins and my friends and schoolmates had been or were all in the throes of going through the same process. I did not really know what I was doing when I was seventeen, generally speaking, and being rather laid-back I simply followed the path that was prescribed for me. That is, stay in school until sixth year, sit my exams, spend three or four years at university, and then emerge with a degree and a sense of the career that would fill my twenties and beyond.
It did not happen like that. I went to Strathclyde University, started and dropped out of two very different degrees, and left to work in a shop for a while, before finally graduating from an unaffiliated institution seven years later. I remember that at the Open Days, when all the departments set out stalls to sell their courses, I completely flummoxed several of my prospective tutors – with no idea which path I wanted to follow, they asked what subjects I was studying. I was in the process of gaining my Higher Drama and my Certificate Of Sixth Year Studies in Maths – two unrelated subjects that failed to suggest any obvious route into further education.
Above: Bob Newhart’s classic take on Driving Instruction.
In the end, I did my degree in the technical side of theatre, specialising in scenic carpentry. It maintained my interest in drama, and utilised my maths skills too. Ultimately, it neglected to offer the steadiest of employment opportunities, as I discovered, but it did at least sustain my interest.
Anyway, with regard to my provisional driving license, I booked lessons and trained to the required standard to pass my test. My instructor found out that I played the guitar (in truth, I owned a guitar. To say that I played it is stretching the extent of my abilities), and we connected over that. His advice was always that I should treat my guitar like I would treat a woman, or maybe it was the other way round – I forget now. That was the upshot, though, and I shall rise above the cheap and crude hack jokes that arise from guitars having G-strings, and from what you do with your digits to elicit a pleasant sound.
I never sat my theory test, which prevented me from taking the practical, even though I was repeatedly told that I would sail through it, so to speak. I cannot now fathom why I did not put in the final bit of effort to secure my right to sit behind the wheel, and regret this shortcoming. I tried to get back into it several times in the intervening years, always being met by some obstacle or other – funding being the main one. it is not a cheap thing to acquire.
Above: Rikki Fulton and Tony Roper, Scottish comedy legends.
Part of me relates it to the time that, turning into a packed residential street with poor visibility, my instructor leapt on the brake to prevent me from driving into the back of an ambulance. The sight of an old woman lying on the road outside her church, in a compact area crammed with parked cars and now hosting a couple of police cars and the aforementioned ambulance, would stay with the most seasoned of drivers, far less an intermediate. He took care of all the footwork while directing me to do some exceptionally tight steering. I managed to negotiate around the parked cars; the emergency vehicles; the attendant paramedics and officers; the bystanders and fellow emerging churchgoers; and the oncoming traffic – but the image and the experience stayed with me.
Another part of me is reluctant to learn now, even if the funds were available, believing that it is just tempting fate. I have visions of crashing and burning within days of getting my license, leading to painful scenes at my funeral as people remark on the irony – “he waited fifteen years to get his license, got into a car and died the next day.” It would be a good story, one that people would enjoy telling thanks to the morbidity and the twist, but there are other stories that I would prefer to be part of instead. Given the choice.
This year I will be thirty-two, and I have held my provisional license for fifteen years. It has recently occurred to me that, In two years time, my provisional driving license will be old enough to apply for its own provisional driving license.
Having found ourselves in a stranger’s flat, drinking after a night in a club, a good friend and I had an experience that we still recall vividly.
She had been dancing with a guy who removed any fear or intimidation by immediately assuring her that he was gay. Once the club shut, he and his two pals invited her to join them back at his flat in the southside. With the promise of further alcohol, and unwilling to go home for the reasons explained in part one (linked to above, and password-protected until my friend approves its publication), she was enticed into a black hack with them – grabbing my hand and taking me with her.
We sat in this high-rise flat, drinking and chatting, laughing and ignoring the large number of insistent phonecalls that she kept getting. It transpired that her new gay chum was not, as such, gay. This was just the simplest way he had found to get someone to dance with him, in the dancefloor absence of his friends and knowing that the majority of girls would see such a request as an unwanted come-on.
We learned that he had been born a she, addressing his disaffection with the sexual organs of his birth by having his gender clinically reassigned. He was quite nonchalant with this information, given that we had only met an hour or two previously, but my friend and I are both open-minded enough to accept it at face value. Our background is also in art and theatre, creative industries known for their many “alternative lifestyles,” and we had happened to study alongside someone who had undergone the same transition – so very little shocks us in that regard. We are no Richard Littlejohns, sympathising yet simultaneously condemning, being supportive while instigating provisos. Personally, with regard to alternative lifestyles, I would suggest that the only truly “alternative” life-style is death.
I subscribe fully to the mantra posited by Bill Hicks, making his final point. He summed up perfectly how I feel about personal freedom, life choices, censorship, and the nature of offence.
Our host talked us through the physics, or perhaps the biology, of his new appendage. I forget the particulars now, although I think it involved removing skin from other areas and sculpting something which he had a say in the size and shape of. He had a girlfriend, who wasn’t around that evening, and she would assist him with the physical and literal pumping-up of said member, creating something that was rigid enough for her to get pleasure from.
The mechanics of it, explained quite fully and graphically at the time, are now hazy with the passing of time and the consumption of alcohol that night (and, indeed, morning.) I am certain that you can find out more about the procedure if you wish, the internet being a valuable resource for all manner of information and photographs (medical and otherwise.) He had had the operation done on the NHS, the surgery costing something in the region of sixty-four-thousand pounds. It may have been slightly more than that, but it would be too convenient in the context of sexuality to suggest that it had cost “sixty-nine” thousand, and so I have used the figure 64,000 for its appearance in popular culture.
Having fully described the whys, wherefores, and workings of his amended genitalia, the next logical step was to enquire if we wanted to see it. I got the impression that it was a rhetorical question, and cannot now guarantee that he actually waited for my friend to answer in the affirmative before – in modern parlance – whipping it out. Being the only female in the room, perhaps he felt (or hoped) that it would hold some greater interest for her. Being male and thoroughly heterosexual, for me there was (to quote Chic Murray‘s comment about the far more mundane occurrence of a surgery door opening) no novelty to it.
And yet, there kind of was. Purely from a curiosity standpoint, of wondering what a £64,000 penis looked like. I was unlikely to ever get a second chance to glance such a thing and, while I would never have asked to see it, here it was being thrust into my line of sight. My friend was nearer than I, and she got the better look – my view was partially obscured, and I was not sufficiently interested to get out of my seat and walk over to examine it in any great detail. Even she resisted the invitation to grasp it. I will say this, though – from what little I saw of his sixty-four-grand penis (which was actually quite a lot, considering), he definitely got his money’s worth.
I have not seen that guy since, and am not even sure that I would recognise him again, but it was a memorable night and another unique bonding experience in what is one of my closest friendships. The very existence of this blog is due to events like this – situations which naturally progress and make perfect sense at the time, but of which hindsight sees only the absurd culmination and demands the question “how the fuck did that happen?”
Half the time I do not know, even when I remember precisely the steps involved, but it reassures me that at least I am not living an entirely boring life.
It is fortunate that the UK does not have the same legislation as the US when it comes to the “crime” of jaywalking.
In Glasgow especially, traffic lights are provided more as a decoration, or as a suggestion, rather than as a mandatory crossing point. Crowds of people will cross the main city centre roads, regardless of traffic volume or colour of light. It is made very easy to position yourself in such a way that you have people to either side of you.
This is a useful tactic, independently recognised and adopted by some of my friends, that ensures if a car does plough into the swathe of pedestrians at least someone else will take the brunt of the impact.
Although I still have, somewhere, in some forgotten box, the badge signifying my membership of The Tufty Club, it seems this was not covered in the road safety advice doled out to schoolchildren in the early eighties:
It is such a common occurrence, and sight, to see people crossing using their own judgement that if it were to be made illegal they would be as well to just wall Glasgow in – given the size of a prison that would be required.
Any time I am with friends who shy away from crossing at undesignated points, or with traffic approaching, I tell them “they’re not allowed to knock you down.” This stems from something I was told once.
I was at a crossroads in the north of the city – where Cambridge Street meets Renfrew Street – and was, using my judgement and then-firm knowledge of the sequence of light changes (I studied in the area), awaiting the green man.
Over the street, a jakey (a young local with a taste for tracksuits and – gauging from his demeanour – tonic wine, cheap cider, and narcotics) began crossing towards me.
A bus turned the corner, narrowly missing him as he refused to let it impede his progress. As it passed he looked at me and confidently told me, with a swagger and in that infamous nasal whine adopted by those of his ilk, “They’re no’ allowed tae knock ye doon, mate. They’re no’ allowed tae knock ye doon.”
I admired his faith. I wouldn’t trust Glasgow’s bus drivers to not knock me down.
As one of my friends later said, when I related the story, in his head the law beats physics.
That was at least six years ago now. To this day, if anyone questions my judgement in darting across streets or in walking halfway across roads and waiting for further traffic to pass before completing my journey, and it has happened twice in the past fortnight, I tell them the same thing: they’re no’ allowed tae knock ye doon.
Strange how a chance encounter can leave such an impression.
A few years ago, I replied to a request for extras to play “The Infected” in a short film that was inspired by, and set in the world of, 28 Days Later.
It looked like fun, and I thought I might make some professional contacts among the crew. As it turned out, I already knew them all anyway. I spent a Sunday morning being made to look bloodied and bruised by trained make-up artists, and then spent the afternoon running along a deserted stretch of road in a rundown industrial estate. It was good fun, and my day was later edited down to about three seconds of screen time, and they weren’t consecutive. Not that that bothers me, I had fun and I looked cool. I even got the train back to Glasgow in full make-up, and got a few strange looks on the journey. For my own amusement, I stopped in at my local shop on the way home and asked if they had any elastoplast.
The film was written and directed by Carter Ferguson, formerly a regular actor on Scottish soap River City and currently a Fight Director for theatre, film and television. I worked on his next short film too, for which I built the set as well as appearing as his monster-of-choice, and I later did a third short in which I lunged at him with a (rubber) baseball bat and was taken out with a sword. Most of my appearances involved a day or two of work, and all were edited down to fleeting glimpses, but that’s the nature of the beast and I’m not complaining.
When Carter and his fellow filmmakers at Ickleflix were looking to promote their short film, I tried to help where I could, and relentlessly spammed everybody on my facebook and twitter feeds, and on myspace and bebo, to give an indication of how long ago it now was. In a moment of inspiration, I got in touch with my once-local newspaper to see if they would plug the film. To my surprise, they arranged to phone me to do a short interview.
I spoke to them for about twenty minutes, and lots of what I said was either curtailed, rephrased, removed, or amended. Nevertheless, despite being full of inaccuracies, they did indeed run a short article about me on their website (as far as I’m aware it didn’t make the printed version). You can read it here.
So that was the first, and so far only, time that my claim to fame actually rests on something that I have achieved or done, rather than merely been party to.
Here is the trailer for The Rage, but it looks like the film has been taken offline for some reason.
This happened a wee while ago, but is another encounter that has stayed with me for its inherent silliness (in part) and for the humour demonstrated by fellow citizens of my favourite city.
I was on Union Street, as I recall, one dark night about 10 or 11pm, waiting at a bus stop. It was cold enough that I was standing with my back to whatever shop was behind me, arms folded for warmth, and late enough that the buses were running relatively infrequently. As I was waiting, a girl came staggering up the street towards me, swaying from side to side and trying desperately hard to keep her chips-and-cheese balanced in one hand while spilling lots of it with the other. I stepped back, to give her plenty of room to pass. The way she was zig-zagging up the pavement, she needed space to maneouvre.
“Are you a bouncer?” she slurred as she passed. I replied in the negative. As a general rule, they don’t hire bouncers to stand at deserted bus stops. Furthermore, as I discovered shortly afterwards, I was standing outside a dark and very closed branch of a high street opticians. In hindsight, I wish I had told her that yes, I was a bouncer, and then refused her entry to the shut Specsavers – just to see what she would do.
At this point, a small group of guys came down the street, as two girls were walking up the street across the road. This exchange was beautiful, purely for being so unexpected and, therefore, funny.
One of the guys wolf-whistled at the girls. One of the girls looked across, and the guy shouted “No’ you, yer pal!”
Haha, cheeky bastard! 😀
Here is a wee story about five neds I met while walking up the street one night. I live about four miles from the centre of town, and more often than not I walk home – it is a straight road, and comparatively quiet, so it doesn’t phase me.
This particular night, I stopped mid way for a can of juice, calling into my former local shop from when I lived nearer the town. On my way out, and a few doors up, I encountered these five guys coming towards me. They weren’t spread out, like Reservoir Dicks, but nor were they in single file. Just kind of spread thinly along a short stretch of the street.
The first one asked “Got a cigarette big yin? Buy it aff ye furra fiver.”
I Don’t smoke, but if you’ve got a fiver you could try the shop I just came out of. You might even get ten for that.
The fourth guy excused himself and said “Can ye gie’s ten pee?”
No, ask your pal. He’s got a fiver.
That’s one of those conversations I jotted down immediately, a demonstration of when a little common sense and teamwork would pay off…