I doubt I will ever be entirely certain, but it is possible that I may once have attracted the amorous attentions of the writer of a Golden Globe-winning, Gold-selling, chart-topping single. There is the distinct possibility that it was all completely innocent, of course, and that is the version of the story I hold to be true. The following is told without prejudice.
I studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, a degree which allowed me to arrange work placements in my final year. Many of my peers elected to gain experience with companies in Scotland, most notably Scottish Opera and the Theatre Royal. In my very finite wisdom – in hindsight, making contacts in this country would have been sensible in the long run – I decided that I would set my sights further afield than the venue which was literally across the street, and began applying for internships in America. Somewhere between a dozen and twenty emails later, one organisation replied offering me a place. Lasting nine weeks over the summer, it would count as two of my five allocations, contributing to my learning while also providing me with my first trip outside Europe.
As I would be studying throughout the summer of 2005, the payoff was time off during the preceding term – time spent hoovering up every available shift in the pub where I was ordinarily employed at weekends only. I saved hard, since the gig provided accomodation and nothing else, and booked my flights. A couple of months later, I was in the USA. I quickly befriended the Assistant Technical Director, bonding on the first day while talking about music.
“I like metal, but I like it messed-up,” he said. “Like Mindless Self Indulgence.”
“You should check out Combichrist,” I said, referring to an act I had discovered and seen a month previously. I saw them for a second time in New York City, about a month after this conversation, and Graham was at the gig with me. He was the only one wearing trainers (sneakers) and I was the only one wearing a kilt. MSI and Combi later toured together, and eventually remixed singles for each other too. On the way out of the venue I stole an event poster off the wall, which I still have. In December 2013 I saw Combichrist play live for the twenty-eighth time.
I found Americans to be friendly, happy to engage with the “crazy Scotsman” in their midst. The girls loved my accent, and there was at one time a photograph showing me at an opening night party, surrounded by four or five women. They were seen to be hanging on my every word, and what was never clear from the picture is that the word they were hanging on was “squirrel.”
“Say it again!” they cried, delighted as I truncated the “u” and rolled the Rs. Being a wind-up merchant of some years standing, it did not take long before I aped their pronunciation. “Say ‘squirrel’!”
I worked on a number of shows as a stage carpenter, learning a lot about life and professionalism (as well as my trade) in the daytime, and out-drinking most of the crew and other interns in the evening. I have a lot of fond memories of that time, and maintain a handful of friendships with those I met. It was a place outside NYC where new plays could air to audiences without the pressure of critical scrutiny, a safe workshop environment where – while I was there – a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright could test his latest script, starring someone who would later become a Muppets villain.
At some point, in all of this, I was introduced to the lovely Amanda McBroom. She was working on lyrics for a new musical adaptation of a film, having once penned a song – famously sung by Bette Midler – called The Rose.
We spoke a few times, on various occasions at company parties or in the production office, and she told me that she had visited Glasgow and eaten in Ashton Lane’s famous restaurant The Ubiquitous Chip. She was usually accompanied by her friend and stage manager, a pleasant Englishwoman who had served her time in the West End. Back then, I had vague notions of pursuing a career in that hallowed district – soon abandoned when I realised that I do not even like visiting London, and would find living there to be unbearable.
When the 7/7 bombings happened, I called home to check my wee cousin was okay – thankfully she was. The stage manager, having far more contacts in the vicinity than I, made frantic phonecall after frantic phonecall, visibly upset as she did so. I remember the callous – almost ridiculous – uttering of our production manager, a man with the unenviable knack of making you feel uncomfortable by merely speaking to you. He would look at you slightly longer than necessary, as if waiting or searching for a response, for some continuation of the conversation or expected answer which was not apparent. As this poor woman desperately tried to reach her friends and relations, his attempt at sympathy extended to a misguided “Now you know how we felt on 9/11.”
After a series of fun adventures I returned home, receiving an email shortly afterwards from the stage manager. Amanda was working on a new project based on Shakespeare’s female characters, and I was asked if I would record myself reading the Lady Macbeth lyrics. This would serve as a basis for her to practise and recite it in a broadly-authentic accent, taking into consideration that Macbeth was not Glaswegian and that US ears would need to comprehend the language.
Theatre being an industry that often thrives on favours, especially when you are a student of the craft, I thought nothing of it. I altered the perfect English of the writing to reflect the Scottish vernacular, changing the “didn’ts” to “didnaes” and so forth. As I recall, I read it aloud into a microphone and converted the digital recording into a file small enough to email across, including with it my version of the lyrics. I was careful to only reflect the local dialect, turning things like the “ofs” to “aes”, because however much of an ego you may think I have, it does not extend to redrafting the work of someone who only missed out on an Oscar nomination because her song predated the film that made it famous.
It was during this endeavour that the question was asked of me: “Why are you doing this?”
“I was asked to.”
“Aye, but – have you not got a lassie friend that could read it. Would that not make more sense, for her to learn from another female instead of a deep-voiced guy?”
I had given it no thought. Perhaps naively, I believed I was simply fulfilling a request that had been made of me, from someone who had been warm and friendly when I met her in a foreign land. The implication that she “maybe had a wee thing” for me had passed me by until that point. I genuinely do not know. Granted, I am tall, dark-haired, was then aged twenty-three, and had spent the summer wearing a kilt instead of shorts. However, I am not big-headed enough to presume that I did anything other than make an acquaintance.
Furthermore, dealing solely in facts, it remains the only time that a multi-award-winning songwriter – responsible for a world-famous hit – has asked me for any kind of collaborative input. I was happy to oblige.
I realise that that may come across as a little insensitive, and yet it almost feels like that is how we are supposed to greet this day. There have been plenty of terrorist attacks in the past century, and a significant number of them within my own lifetime. We do not remember, or commemorate, the bombing of the Arndale Centre in Manchester; the Oklahoma and Lockerbie bombings do not have their dates prominently – almost proudly – etched into the public conscience. Without wishing to sound callous – I understand that a lot of families suffered the death or injury of loved ones, and huge numbers of rescuers are condemned to long-term respiratory afflictions – what makes this incident so special?
It is hard to conceive that any other nation on earth would “remember those lost” by offering one-day discounts and other promotional deals. That sounds a lot more like a cheap cash-in than any meaningful form of remembrance, and one golf-course owner faced a backlash after advertising nine holes of golf for $9.11. Here are some other examples.
I am not debating that “9/11” was a shocking and powerful event in recent history, please do not misunderstand me. I merely find it absurd that the date has been added to the collective conciousness, unlike the dates of so many atrocities which have occurred before or since. Do you know when the Mumbai bombings took place? Can you remember which year London had its terrorist atttacks (July, yes – but which year? And what of those conducted by the IRA?)
Every year, it feels like the images of that day are voyeuristically dragged out and replayed for us. The media shouts “Americans died!” at us in case we have forgotten. The loss of life on that scale and in that or a comparable manner is tragic, no question. Yet it feels like we are not being asked to remember that people died, rather that Americans did.
I do not feel the need to be bludgeoned over the head with this footage annually, lest it has slipped my mind. Other terrorism anniversaries are available. Many of them are more dignified, not heralded like some international celebration.
I do not have any answers. I write this blog to draw attention to my observations, specifically when what I see seems unusual and worthy of comment. All that I have written above was intended as preamble, before I reproduced a stand-up comedy routine I performed on the tenth anniversary. It no longer fits here, out of context, and if you want to read it you will find it on my comedy blog. It is gallows humour, because that is the only way I know to deal with life. To replicate it here would be to undermine my point.
My point being, perhaps we would be advised to remember all victims of terrorism, regardless of nationality. As I discovered within minutes of writing this entry, I am not the only one to suggest it.
I have a friend who studied the history of art, in her American home state.
While chatting online, she mentioned that she was having issues with an assignment, and I offered to help her with it. Given that I have never studied the subject in any detail, which she knew, the chances of me being able to help her – even before considering the moral and ethical questions of plagiarism and passing-off – were slim. Nevertheless, she copied and pasted the question and sent it to me.
I cannot claim to understand what is being asked, although I have also never considered it in the correct context. Instead, I wrote a response that roughly addresses all of the points raised, without actually relating it either to art or to history. For all that it is not a serious piece of writing, I do rather like it for the strange theories it posits. I say “it posits” rather than “I posit” as I do not recall putting much thought into it. I sat and just wrote, producing a stream-of-conscious response that has a kind of logic to it, despite being complete nonsense.
“Personal interaction with objects, images and spaces can be so powerful as to change the way one thinks about particular issues or topics. For your intended area of study (art history), describe an experience where instruction in that area or your personal interaction with an object, image or space affected this type of change in your thinking. What did you do to act upon your new thinking and what have you done to prepare yourself for further study in this area?”
My personal interaction with objects, images and space has taken on many guises since long before I first read this enthralling question. Some of these interactions have been more powerful than others – the time I sneezed up a lung in a site-specific work called “Roomful of Dust”, versus the time I blinked whilst haphazardly gazing at “Statue with Traffic Cone Hat” for example.
My problem is not with how I perceive and react to space, but how space interacts and copes with me. Now, presuming that there is a finite amount of space within our atmosphere, we are all of us confined within the limits of the earth and its surrounding stratosphere. The human race is expanding at a rate hitherto unprecedented, and as every new person is born, a little of the existing space is pushed outwards. So, initially, when history began, the sky was quite literally just above people’s heads. With time, as the world population has expanded, the sky has expanded continuously upward and outward until it reached its present upper limit. This was in the mid-eighties.
When the limit was reached, every new person, growing (as is a person’s wont), caused untold pressure to build up on the existing space until, when the pressure grew too much, it burst a hole in the Ozone and the surplus space escaped. So you see, the population of the world continues to grow and we are now pushing out all the remaining space. One day, possibly within our lifetimes (unless by some miracle – possibly cellphone radiation) we either, as humans, stop fornicating wantonly or become entirely impotent. Certainly, for as long as the population increases, the surer we will eventually run out of space and perish as a species.
When I first saw space, I realised how very little of it there can be in one place (I selfishly keep some in a box in my attic for emergencies.) Some people look at this space and decide to have it for themselves – we started small by finding space in Australia and America for our convicts. Now these countries have grown and populated, they need space for themselves and, short of concreting over the ocean, the moon is probably our next best option. Well, that or People Control. Some sort of enforced euthanasia may be required.
I am keeping my personal space box at a secret location, underground (a further irony – by digging space for my box of space, I have incrementally reduced further the amount of space between the ground and the sky), as I believe that in the very near future I will be able to sell it on Ebay for a huge amount. Whether I have any use for the money at the point when space becomes so valuable remains to be seen, by the three or so people left alive to see it. Looting space may be the next big craze – we can only watch television for so long before our brains melt into our socks and cats lick at the pureed remnants of wasted genius. That will be fun to watch, so the process of writing this piece has affected my thinking – I’d never thought of that before. Yes, when people become one with their sofas and gradually dissolve into a grey gloop in front of banal ‘celebrity’ based shows, that will have a profound effect on me. Though, granted, not as profound effect as it will have on those who take the time to ooze slowly back to the primeval sludge from which we all once grew.
I hope you appreciate the space this piece has taken out of the remaining years of my life, and the space it has taken up on my hard drive, as well as the space in my brain that I have allocated to formulating this discourse. Now it’s taking up space in my drinking time, so go, read, learn, digest, enjoy, and when you’ve done all that – go watch some TV (this final suggestion is my preparation for further study – sooner you watch, the sooner you melt)
There is very little that is more awkward than your boss, who is roughly ages with you, trying to communicate to a roomful of employees but becoming stuck between talking on their level, and being aware of the environment and of the expectations of his corporate masters.
While twenty of us sat around the edges of this call-centre classroom one afternoon, our speaker tried to best illustrate a particular point with a modern phrase known to us all. He failed to fully commit to its use, however, and trailed off after saying “Bros before…” – the missing final word being “Hos.” It was never clear quite how this American frat-boy mantra, which advocates prioritising guy friends over girlfriends, was relevant to the customer service emails we were being taught to compose and send.
I can, at least, understand why – at each mention – the boss began the statement and then bailed with the words “I won’t finish that sentence.” I think, and hope, that he was shying away from using the derogatory term “ho”, short for “whore” or – as it was phonetically written on the graffitied walls of my secondary school – “hooer.” Though perhaps he is just staunchly against the further Americanisation of Scottish culture.
During the course of the informal tutorial, several of my co-workers used the phrase too, all of them stopping short of completing it. I decided that it was time to derive some humour from it, since the word play is – at least, I thought – obvious. One of the girls quoted the saying, and by this time it was a running joke that you would only give voice to the first two words. Deadpan, I asked my question to the room at large:
“What is it about that particular garden implement that means you can’t say it??”
There was a pause, as the pun registered with almost everyone in the room, leading to laughter. The only person not laughing was the person who had last expressed the term.
“I don’t get it,” she said.
“Garden implements,” the boss explained, smiling. Her blank stare was met with further explanation. “Hoes.”
“Oh!” She exclaimed. “I thought you meant like a trowel or something.”
“Yeah,” I said, matter-of-factly inserting that in place of the omitted word. “Bros before trowels.”
We had been taken on as temporary staff. They kept her on, they let me go.
The Two Ronnies, and some confusion over “hoes” – starts at 2m 18s.
I studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, which sounds far more prestigious than it ought to. It was a valuable experience as much for what it taught me about institutions and politics as for what I learned about the practical aspects of staging productions.
The building is located next to the Thistle Hotel, and an access road runs down the side of one and along the side of the other. Our side door, the main access point for small load-ins and deliveries, and providing access to the ever-present rubbish skip, opened onto the corner of this road. Across the street was the corner of the hotel, and an exit situated on the north corner at the east side of the building. Our door faced west, onto it. Here it is in Google Maps:
There was a buzz about the place one day in 2006, due to a big talk being hosted in the hotel. I happened to be on the street at the front of the RSAMD, passing across the end of the lane that runs off to the right in this picture. I glanced down the side of the building, as it was not uncommon to see people there who I knew. Sure enough, one of the guys from the year below me was patiently sitting on the low wall outside our door. I walked down the lane and joined him.
A handful of professional photographers were standing behind the barrier, seen on the left of this picture, and there were a few other curious bystanders milling around. The rumour was strong, my friend informed me, that something interesting was about to happen.
With no more pressing engagements, I sat there for maybe five minutes, chatting to my friend and idly waiting to see if anything out of the ordinary occurred. I didn’t have to wait long.
The hotel door suddenly opened and out came three or four men in smart black suits, closely followed by Bill Clinton and more guys in black suits.
Clinton stopped at the top of the platform, addressing the crowd from his position behind the black railing. There were maybe thirty people, if that, in his vicinity. I forget all that he said, as he imparted a few words of greeting and referred to the key topics of the luncheon at which he had just presided. He ended by saying, and I remember this vividly, “Give the power back to the people.”
There were cheers, and he raised his fist in some gesture of salute, or as a way of saying goodbye, before being promptly whisked into one of two big, black secret-service vehicles with heavily tinted windows. They both drove off without much delay.
But that, such as it was, is the time that I was part of a very small crowd in close proximity to, and spoken to by, a recent former president of the United States of America.
This is my favourite complaint that I have read recently, just because it is so stupid.
My favourite band have just produced (and sold out of) a limited range of seasonal T-shirts, which retailed at $20. Postage to the UK, at $12, brought the cost to roughly £20, which is still pretty reasonable when you consider that’s at least the price you would pay at a gig these days.
Someone on the band page complained that he refused to pay that much for shipping. I just love the idea of someone going “I will buy this shirt, however I absolutely refuse to have it delivered to me!”
Here’s the relevant screenshot, edited to show the pertinent comments.
Incidently, contrary to what was written, none of Combichrist live in the UK. The studio band is just Andy LaPlegua, who relocated to Atlanta from Norway. The live band, and management, live variously in New York, Seattle, Los Angeles and elsewhere across the USA. They do, however, play in venues in and around Camden on their annual UK tours.
Regardless of which, you need to pay to have the shirt shipped from where it is, not from where the singer might live…
Cool shirt though.
Life is absurd. Statement of fact. I called my blog this because there are so many incidences that are beyond the realms of comprehension, it is easier to just embrace the fact that crazy things happen all the time, rather than try to fully understand them. Here is one such coincidence, which has flummoxed me. Some background information is required.
A few months ago, I decided on a whim to finally investigate getting my first ever tattoo. I figure now I’m 30, the folly of youth is somewhere behind me. Trevor, the drummer in my favourite band, Combichrist, is a tattoo artist, and I asked him to quote me a price to get some work done on their forthcoming UK tour. His fee of $150/hour in cash, while not particularly unreasonable when you consider his portfolio and his standing, was sufficiently off-putting for someone with only an idea and no real money. Even with a favourable exchange rate, I’d need the cash (as opposed to credit card) and have to pay commission. Then consider that I have no idea how labour-intensive a tattoo is, how quickly it can be done, or in fact very much at all about the actual procedure involved. All I know for certain is that I want my first tattoo to hold meaning, and I’m extremely relieved that at no point in my twenties did this desire for a tattoo manifest itself this strongly – otherwise I might be permanently inked with the name of a band I no longer listen to.
Caught up in the idea, I immediately set about thinking of something appropriate but simple – filled with meaning, but achievable within an hour-long session. The Combi logo seems hack, and I realise now that I don’t want to be marked with the name of a band who look set to become huge – fine for the first few years, and then you look like you jumped on the very bandwagon you helped start rolling. I decided instead, in a sudden epiphany, that my first tattoo should involve the word “Glasgow” – my home for the past eight years, and when I moved here I discovered that I was always a Glaswegian, I’d just been trapped in Hamilton for 22 years. In describing this choice of tattoo, I would say: I’m a part of it, and it’s a huge part of me. I combined some Google image searches, and quickly came up with something I liked.
My closest and most trusted friend is a girl I have known for the entirety of our adult lives, and last night in the course of sending her an email I mentioned, for the first time, this notion that had taken me some months back. It didn’t relate to the rest of our conversation, apart from me saying that I’ve just booked up to see Combi four times on this tour, and neither of us is tattooed (which surprises many), but as she is my barometer of good/shit I ran my design past her. Her response, condensed, is that I should re-think the border I have chosen, and replace it with something that holds significant meaning. “I don’t think your tattoo design is finished yet would be my concluding remark if I was to make one which I have in fact just done.”
I realised, lying in bed reading this at 4am, that she is right. This is partly why we are friends and why I run things past her. I had hastily created this design and then chose the best of five similar ones I threw together one afternoon. Sure, the actual name of this city is as significant as any one place can be in a man’s life, but the rest of it came from what was at hand at that particular time, drawn from half a dozen pages of search results. There is still two months until the tour, plenty of time to plan further the artwork I want indelibly drawn on me, and although I am happy with the result generated so far, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is finished or doesn’t require additional work. Even though it isn’t financially viable right now, and though I did some research and came up with a few designs, one of which I like a lot, there’s still the possibility of creating something even better. All of which might be blindingly obvious to some of you, but which I was obviously blind to. That’s the thought I fell asleep to, tattoos and Glasgow and the resolution to put further thought into my design and make it truly personal.
Tonight, I finally got round to putting away some of the stuff that I dug out of boxes last week, stuff that has been in storage at my dad’s since I moved out of my first Glasgow flat – long-lost treasures like my craft materials, black kilt socks, and a hip flask. I put this last item in the drawer with my other good-but-scarcely-used items, among the neckties, the kilt socks and pins, the other hip flask, the cufflinks, and the watch I’ve never worn. It was a present from my youngest sister, sometime when she was still working in a jewellers, but I’d stopped wearing a watch at that point as I didn’t like having the extra weight on my wrist and used my phone to tell the time. It has sat in various drawers all of the years since, during which time the battery has gradually died. As you do when confronted with some rarely-seen item of clothing or jewellery, I took it out and put it on, noticing that it could do with having a link or two removed and contemplating whether I have the skills and the tools for the job. Idly trying to wind it, I removed the plastic display insert from the box, looking for the instructions to confirm the method of setting the time. I don’t really want to break a watch that is as pristine as a watch can be. What I found was so unexpected that I have no explanation for it, and when I phoned my sister to ask her if she can tell me more, she can’t even remember ever giving me a watch.
“Are you sure it was her gave you it?” asked another friend. I am certain – I don’t own an abundance of jewellery, and I remember precisely how I acquired that little which I have: a watch for my 21st, which I chose and which has been broken for years and no longer has the metal strap attached; this watch my sister gave me, year unknown; my grandpa’s wedding ring, the replacement for the one he lost in the Mediterranean Sea; a gold chain that was my 18th birthday present, and which hasn’t been worn in over a decade; and a pair of cufflinks which my dad gave me in anticipation of my need for them at my sister’s wedding. That’s it. And at no point do I remember secreting money in any of them.
When I lifted out the plastic insert, there was a flap in the bottom of it with thick folded paper – I presumed instructions – inside. It came as a surprise to find that it is actually $130 US dollars in ten-dollar bills. I have no recollection of hiding money in there, and I have only been to America twice – in summer 2005 and February 2006. Both times, I took Travellers Cheques and only a handful of notes. The cheques were slipped inside the covers of various books I had taken with me, stored with my passport, and generally kept in a few different locations. Some were in my suitcase, some in my wallet, some in my backpack – all sound hiding places, and ensuring that it would take extremely bad luck to leave me without anything. When I did run short of money, towards the end of my ten-day stint in NYC in 2006, I figured I had spent more than intended or had done some poor accounting. In 2009, when I had moved into and from six flats, and finally unpacked all my boxes of books, I found an uncashed Travellers Cheque inside the back cover of the novel I had been reading at the time. I certainly can’t explain this wad of notes in the watch box.
For a start, it’s a watch I have never worn, and so I can’t imagine why I would have taken it on a transatlantic journey. The plastic insert has been sliced open, unevenly, and I am not given to destroying my belongings in such a way – if this was my chosen hiding place, I’d be far more inclined to keep it aesthetically pleasing by keeping the insert intact then folding the notes flat and hiding them under it. To damage something in otherwise excellent condition, to make uneven slits in the base instead of neatly cutting along the seams, to then secrete a bundle of notes inside it instead of keeping the notes flat – none of this strikes me as my natural choice. Then there is the fact that there are thirteen notes here, and I have explained on here previously that I have a lifelong aversion to that number. To place 13 ten-dollar bills in one place, to my mind, would be tempting fate.
I actually checked the notes against the light, looking for watermarks (which I found), but sense tells me nobody would go to such lengths to hide Monopoly money. There are only two possible explanations: 1) I put this money here for safekeeping, for reasons and in circumstances now wholly eradicated from my memory, or; 2) fuck knows. The money was hidden there by person or persons unknown on its way to, or before being returned unused to, the reputable jeweller who then sold it on? That seems implausible, and yet the rational option (that I did it) is alien to me in numerous ways. I have to accept that I will never know for certain, but there is one notable upside. Specifically, $130 dollars, in cash, is almost exactly enough to pay for a tattoo…
I would say this is really weird, this casual talking of and rethinking my tattoo (which hasn’t been spoken of in months) then suddenly finding funds for it completely by chance, because it is. But life is so overwhelmingly absurd anyway that it’s just another inexplicable coincidence to be taken in stride.
And if you ever hid 130 bucks in a watch box then lost track of it, please don’t contact me.