Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

World

Life Is Absurd. So Is Death.

I maintain that life is absurd, and this is never better demonstrated than when it comes to death.

A one-time colleague of mine died recently. We were not close, despite working reasonably closely on a short project nine or ten years ago, yet – unlike some others I have worked with before and since – he was memorable. When I read of his death I recognised his name immediately and could instantly picture his face. Given that I freelance and meet a lot of people, the same is not true of everybody I have worked with.

I was sorry to read of his passing, always figuring that our paths would cross again some day – socially, if not professionally. Instead, I am left with a memory of that project which has been blurred by time and events that have happened since. While it did not seem appropriate to share my faint half-recollections alongside the tributes being paid on his Facebook page, I went through and read many of them. The public outpouring of love and affection was touching.

What struck me, generally speaking, is this: it seems really sad that you have to die before most people are prepared to reveal the extent of their love for you.

The old adage is true, everyone loves you when you are dead. To my mind that appears a little late to express it. If someone matters that much to you, is it not worth letting them know while they can fully appreciate it?

This world makes no sense. At the risk of being facetious while trying to illustrate this point, next time I am feeling low I might kill myself, just so people say nice things about me.

 


9/11 – Remember To Remember While You Are Remembering.

Happy 9/11!

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.


T-Mobile, Triggering Misery.

Account Number [redacted]

Dear T-Mobile/EE/Everything Everywhere,

I wish to complain about the service you almost provided while I was contracted to you, and the nightmarish circumstances you created when I tried to leave your shoddy excuse for a network provider.

Since T-Mobile merged with Orange to become EE, your signal is more accurately described less as Everything Everywhere and more as Nothing Anywhere. I complained about this lack of service on two or three different occasions in the past few months (via your 150 phone service – “press every number under the sun, and once you have a blister on your finger your call will eventually be answered by someone who is unable to help meaningfully.”)

I grew tired of being asked if I had an alternate number you could contact me on. I only have one phone, as it did not occur to me that your service would be so dreadful. Had it, I would have been sure to take out a second contract with another phone company, in order that you could reach me on it when my signal disappeared – as it frequently did, often in the middle of calls to you. I could invoice you for plasters purchased to cover my blistered number-pressing fingers, but I chose to waive those fees rather than speak to further incompetent members of staff.

I use the word “incompetent” advisedly.

It was confirmed in your Glasgow store that much of Greater Glasgow is suffering from poor coverage just now, as you are dismantling masts. Your shop monkey tried to take the edge off it by sympathising “even we don’t get much signal.” This was little comfort, as you may gather, and while I appreciated his attempt to sympathise it was sorely lacking.

To cut a long story short – the full version is a work-in-progress that will appear on my blog, in two or maybe three parts, with accompanying times, dates, and screen-grabs – after a dozen calls to you it was agreed that you would give me two options. Firstly, I could accept a fifteen percent discount, applied monthly until the end of my contract. My monthly bill never rose higher than twenty-five pounds, and I had zero signal to speak of. You would charge me (at most) £3.75 less per month, in return for which I could continue to suffer your appalling “service” for nearly another year? What a bargain! How about no.

Alternatively, you would release me from my contract early, having checked your systems and discovered that – yes indeed – Glasgow, the biggest city in Scotland and third biggest city in the UK, is not particularly well served by your network. That sounded far more appealing, given that you could not supply any kind of time-frame as to when your masts might actually begin working properly again. I was quickly given a PAC code, which I asked to be repeated to me as I knew how very difficult it had been to speak to somebody capable of issuing it, and I wrote it down.

At this time, having wasted three hours of my Saturday night trying to get enough signal to call you, and having been passed from department to department, I asked about the terms and conditions of transferring my number. It was explained to me, patiently enough as I made myself very aware of your procedures, that my PAC code (read and repeated for confirmation again) would be active for thirty days, and that my contract would not end until I used it. Failure to use it would see my contract remain unchanged. This seemed reasonably straightforward, and I made sure to equip myself with (I believed) all of the facts during this phonecall.

A week later, I found myself in Northern England. I went there deliberately, so it was no great surprise to find myself there. It was equally unsurprising to discover that your service/signal/network/coverage is just as bad down there. As I was there for seven days, armed with the PAC code that I had jotted down phonetically, and confirmed phonetically twice, I called into the shop of a nearby rival. Within an hour I had chosen a new phone and payment plan, agreed to their terms, and left jubilant that finally I would be able to receive calls as they were made. Hell, I could even send texts and browse online – all of the fundamental basics that you should have been supplying as contracted.

This other company informed me that my number would transfer within a few hours, maybe a few days. Four days later, I had to contact them to find out why my number had not been transferred to my new phone. The answer? You had given me an incorrect PAC code. I was condemned to keeping my old phone to hand for a longer period, until I would get back to Glasgow.

In the meantime – and really, bonus points for being utterly useless here – since being given my (evidently wrong) PAC code, you had begun sending me texts thanking me for signing up to T-Mobile. I received texts telling me all about your wonderful company which I had just left due to you not providing the service you were legally obliged to.

Once I returned home, I was met with written confirmation of my PAC code. It was different to the one I had been given verbally, and thus was not so much confirmation as new information. I duly gave it to my new supplier, who was able to use it and transfer my number accordingly. Shortly afterwards, I was able to use my existing number with my new phone, and for a brief spell all was right with the world. Then you spoiled it, as your ineptitude suggested you would.

I was sent a final bill, which contained a load of figures that seemed unwarranted. Rather than waste further hours of my life trying to contact you, and heartily sick of your inability to function anything like competently, I ignored it. I guessed that, if it was important, you would contact me again, and you did.

This time, in bold letters at the top of the page, you announced that I had an overdue balance. My account had now been disconnected from the T-Mobile network, you said, and followed “for your service to be restored, please pay the amount in full stated at the top of this letter.”

The quoted sentence is important. I did not want my service, such as it was, to be restored – and so I did not pay you any money. I did not trust you to not try and reconnect me, since – until this juncture – there was no acion on your part that instilled confidence in me.

You wrote to me again, three weeks later, an identical letter (save for the amount asked for) which opened the same way. Again, as I have no desire for you to restore my service, I did not pay “the amount stated at the top of this letter.” That said, as my hand had healed somewhat, I was willing to risk new blisters. I dialled your customer service number, and pressed all of the required keys to talk to one of your employees. She was very helpful, inasmuch as she was thoroughly unhelpful.

She went through my final bill, breaking it into its component parts. It includes a “notice period charge”, and she explained that it is the fee charged for providing me with a PAC code. I suggested I should be given a discount, since I was provided with an incorrect code and thus inconvenienced. In truth, I told her outright that I dispute that amount as at no point – during the conversation whereby I decided to leave T-Mobile – was I informed that I would be charged for doing so. It had been a lengthy conversation, given that I received my PAC code and confirmed it, while asking for all of the relevant information regarding the issuing and use of the code, and I am sure you can go back and listen to it for quality and training purposes.

I asked this new staff member for an email address, so that I could put this complaint in writing. Unbelievably, she told me that T-Mobile do not communicate by email, and I countered by asking which century you are operating in. Her argument, weak as it was, is that you prefer all complaints to be in writing and sent by post, so that you can keep them all in one place. As much as I refuse to undermine my argument by resorting to cursing, this sounds like complete bullshit.

She seemed to suggest that, rather than have my complaint sent quickly and directly, to be stored in as many locations as you wish to copy it to, making it instantly and easily retrievable, you would prefer that I type it, print it, affix a stamp, and entrust it to the Royal Mail. Perhaps your internal servers are as dubious as your network coverage? This is the only reason I can imagine which would necessitate the involvement of a postman to resolve this. Unless you have suddenly elected to support and reinvigorate the flagging reliance on their centuries-old infrastructure.

Once I thanked the girl for her assistance, having jotted down the postal address she furnished me with, I did as all modern-day endurers of appalling service do, and went online to register my disdain for your company. While there, connected to the internet by a rival company who manage to fulfil that contracted duty, I decided to find a number for your head office. I had hardly begun browsing your terrible website before a box popped up, inviting me to chat to someone. Here we go! I asked for an email address to make my complaint and – incredibly – it was immediately forthcoming, without hesitation.

tmobile

Why is it, then, that your advisors disagree on the methods of communication open to your customers? I resent being misinformed by the telephone advisor, only to be given the correct information online minutes later and without fuss.

Now, with the tools necessary to document my subjection to your poor standards and inconsistent policies, I could begin writing. I took my time, admittedly, since this is a lengthy complaint and one I wished to word well. The telephone advisor had said that she would make a note on my account, saying that I had called in and planned to discuss the amount you claim I owe. I was under the impression, perhaps misguidedly, that I had bought myself time to compose a letter worthy of all the hassle and stress you have caused me.

Today, 7th September, I received a letter from [redacted] Debt Recovery Limited. You can guess the rest, I am sure, but my account has been passed to them. The next step is that I need to contact them and explain that I am in dispute with you, regarding the amount allegedly owed. I look forward to that chat, it gives me buckets of joy repeating the same thing to so many of your employees and associates.

I propose an alternate solution.

You can immediately waive the £[redacted] “Notice Period Charge”;
You can also dismiss the outstanding amount*, in lieu of the hassle and inconvenience of addressing your repeated failings and inconsistencies;
You can re-word the opening of your standard letter, so that it does not suggest that payment of final bills will result in reconnection to your service. I am prepared to give this advice free of charge, and shall not charge a consultant’s fee for recommending it.

You will note that I have appended an asterisk(*) after mentioning the outstanding amount. Here is why:

A letter from T-Mobile, dated 02/08/13, gives the outstanding balance as £[redacted].
My final bill, dated July ’13, and a letter dated 23/08/13, both give the outstanding balance as £redacted].
This letter from [redacted] Debt Recovery Ltd claims that the balance due is £[redacted].

Prior to having spoken to them, I would expect you to clarify how much you believe me to owe your company. Although it is a moot point, as I stand by my request that you write off the amount in full and with immediate effect.

You are the worst telecommunications company I have ever encountered, unable to justify your existence or provide even the most basic of services. Not only is your network and signal provision a joke, but your staff repeatedly fail to corroborate the most fundamental information. Instead of chasing me for your mistakes, your finances would be better spent on improving your national systems and in administering training.

I anticipate a full response to this letter. Unlike you, I accept emails – although you may use Royal Mail if doing so truly is an altruistic act on your part. At the very least, I demand an explanation for your continued failings throughout this troublesome episode, and I would like it in writing (typed or joined-up) that I no longer owe you any money.

Thank you for making me waste another few hours of my life documenting all of this, yet again.

Yours insincerely (apart from the bit about waiving any amount outstanding, I am entirely sincere about that),

[me]


Radio Uncontrolled Cars

I have mentioned previously that I once worked, in a temporary capacity, for the Inland Revenue (as it then was.) Regular readers know that all the stories I tell here are my own, observed by me and not apocryphal. Everything I document I can substantiate, with further background detail and facts as appropriate.

This is a break from the norm, a story told by a colleague who had the desk opposite mine. I cannot vouch for its authenticity, but he told it well and I have told it often since, without ever encountering it in any other form or from any other source. I am not sure how it will translate to the written word, but told with gusto it is very entertaining.

My workmate had previously been in the army, relating an incident that occurred when they were on manoeuvres, or out training in some capacity. His team were hidden in the undergrowth on the side of a hill, above a road that cut across the landscape but which gave way to a valley on the other side. My friend had control of the unit’s radio, being taken aback when suddenly, from nowhere, a landrover came roaring up the road. It took off when it hit the crest, bouncing down and continuing on its way at some speed.

soldierAbove: Hide-and-seek, with guns.

Next thing, another landrover comes after it, flying up the road but missing it when it lands. The landrover tumbles down the hillside, while my friend looks to his group for advice. If this were war, the enemy vehicle would not trouble them. However, being an exercise, he is unsure whether to call it in or not – technically these are his comrades, and they may need help. He reaches for the dial. Suddenly, from behind him, high up on the hill, he hears his commanding officer bellow “don’t touch that radio!”

He looks round, and sees his sergeant (or whatever rank he may be) tearing down the hillside. He is red in the face, leaping over rocks and tearing through heather, vaulting over prostrate soldiers and small shrubs. Shocked into inaction, my friend again hears the same shouted command:

“Don’t touch that fucking radio!”

My friend is at a loss, already unaware of the correct course of action and now unsure of the intentions of his superior. His superior is still charging over the terrain, making the final leap that lands him in the ditch next to my friend. Without a word, he grabs the radio and immediately screams into it “there’s a rover rolled-over, over.”

Turning to my friend, he smiles and says “I’ve waited fucking years to say that!”

 

 


Outward Bound At The Inland Revenue

I used to work for the Inland Revenue, long before it was renamed Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and at the time when Working and Child Tax Credits were being introduced.

It was an alright job, for what it was, and it gave me an insight into civil service life and how much money is (or was) squandered there. My job was to check data that had scanned incorrectly when the application forms went through OCR, by calling people up or issuing letters to enquire whether their name was John (as common sense would dictate) rather than what the computer had read and input as j04n. Initially, such judgement calls were disallowed, and I had many embarrassing conversations asking for details that seemed obvious.

We processed a huge number of claims, so efficiently that our contracts were repeatedly extended while other centres in the UK wound down. There were incidences of two teams in the same building working on the same caseload, though, and occasionally we would contact people or read notes only to find out that someone else had done the same work an hour earlier. We came in at night and worked for a few hours, getting attitude from the permanent day staff whose desks we had to use. I signed the Official Secrets Act before starting there, and at the time I was convinced it was so I could not tell anyone how badly the place was run.

It is my firm belief that nobody is truly incompetent until they work for the government.

I was part of a small team working in a huge glass-walled office building, and we got on well. We would socialise together, initially sharing jokes and collaborating on the paper’s cryptic crossword when the work dried up, as it frequently did during the evening. As we worked through printed lists of National Insurance numbers, pulling up files and generating letters or making calls as appropriate, there was a great sense of camaraderie. Being young, and perceiving incompetence within the methodology and managers, we were passively rebellious. All of us took smoking breaks, regardless of nicotine intake, and the best days were Sundays and Bank Holidays. These were voluntary, and you would be assigned to some supervisor who did not know you. Many were the hours of taxpayers money wasted as we sat and played Solitaire instead of doing paperwork. You had to be careful, though – if it was dark outside, and you were sitting facing into the office (so your monitor display could not be seen), the reflection of it in the window was occasionally noticed.

hmrc centre1Above: My workplace for some of 2003

One colleague successfully used the Jedi Mind Trick on our boss, when asked to hand in a contract renewal form. He waved his hand in front of the gaffer’s face, telling him “I already gave you it back.” The boss moved away, before realising this was an untruth.

Another friend asked me to join her on a smoking break, during a Bank Holiday shift when we were being largely unmonitored. Outside, with no cigarettes, we jumped into her van and drove to the shops. On the way back, being a nice day, she suggested a detour. I had no real choice, given that hers was the sole mode of transport back to the office, and it was not ideally situated for walking. I do not advocate skiving, and I am ordinarily conscientious and hard-working. However, as it really was a nice day, and since we were driving past the park anyway, I had no issue with stopping for a while.

Admittedly, drinking a recreational drug, then hiring a pedalo and cruising on the park’s lake, might have been taking the piss a wee bit. If every smoking break lasted ninety minutes and included a boat-ride in the sunshine, while paid on the company’s time, I would take up the habit.

To reiterate, I do not condone this as the actions of a responsible adult. However, I was only twenty-two at the time – an adult, but still irresponsible. We were on temporary contracts with definite end-dates, and I was starting my degree that year, and so I held no real fear of repercussion.

james-hamilton-parkAbove: James Hamilton Park, island not in shot.

Entry to the building was, as you may imagine, strictly controlled. Photographic ID was issued, and checked by security guards manning the front doors. Nobody was exempt, and our shift began with several hundred people filing past the uniformed staff glancing at every pass. It seemed to me that they did not always give their full attention to the job, and in my last week I elected to have some fun.

I wanted to find a picture of a gorilla, that I could cut out and stick over my photo. I am not saying that they were lax, but as I write that sentence I realise that it is indicative of the solemnity with which we did not treat this job. I cannot fathom, now, that I would ever pull that stunt while working for a high-profile authoritative department. At the time, it was in keeping with our collective attitude, but I failed to find an appropriate photo (this being the age before the internet really took off, when Encarta was as close as you got to a Google image search.) I did manage to locate an image of Al Pacino, however, and duly substituted it. Nobody noticed, at all.

I endeavoured to make the point, kicking subtlety out of the window and jettisoning the star of Dog Day Afternoon. I needed something bolder, something so ridiculous that to not spot it would be hilariously inept. I found a book that had been an unwanted present, setting about it with a pair of scissors and deftly removing the face of another movie icon. I attached it over my own headshot, and the next day – my last – I walked into the office unchallenged, despite having a photographic ID card that, in place of me, bore the likeness of Darth Vader.

VaderrotjAbove: “Hi, I’m Darth Vader, and you may be entitled to Working Tax Credit.”

Before condemning the desk staff for being particularly unobservant, it is worth noting that I was very visually recognisable in those days. The dress code was “no football shirts, nothing offensive” and I took that to the extreme. This later became a staple of my stand-up set, but every word of it is true, right down to the final, contemporary observation:

“When I was 20, everyone had wallet chains. I had a wallet chain and four pairs of handcuffs, hanging from the belt-loops of my blue camouflage combats. Those were tucked into my calf-high Doc Martens, and I wore them with a band t-shirt. On top of that, I wore a white doctors coat, and on the back of it I painted ‘Trust Me’ in red, so it looked like blood. The sleeves were rolled up and on the left forearm I wore a black leather spiked armband, which ran from wrist to elbow with spikes two-inches high all down it. On the other arm, I had a smaller armband, with smaller spikes. On my head, I wore a black top hat.

I might have looked like a dick, but I had a fucking cool shadow.”

 

 

 


Taking A Walk On The Wildlife Side

I walk a lot, and think nothing of it. I would like to say that this is indicative of a healthy lifestyle, but it is just something that was instilled in my nature a long time ago.

I grew up in a residential area, an area not served by public transport. Due to its relative proximity to the town centre, a walk from my childhood home to the nearest bus stop was, in effect, a walk to where I would want a bus to take me. The two primary schools I attended were similarly located, and my secondary school was not much further away. I had a bicycle for going longer distances – my friend’s bit at the top of the town; the local parks – but I made a two-mile round trip to school every day, by foot and whatever the weather. As a teenager, if I wanted to go somewhere, I walked.

When I moved to Glasgow, my first flat was situated at Charing Cross. This busy city intersection, where several motorway junctions converge with Argyle Street, Sauchiehall Street, and Great Western Road, was not well-served by public transport either. From the front door of my close, the nearest bus stop was at least halfway in the direction of where I wanted to be. Given the congestion, and our notorious one-way streets, I found that I could easily cross the city quicker than the average bus. While a double-decker bound for my destination idled at yet another set of traffic lights, I would be cutting down side streets and darting across junctions, making good time despite the weight of an extra couple of quid in my pocket – coins unspent on a fare.

glasgow city mapAbove: Map of Glasgow City Centre

As I came to know the layout of my adoptive hometown, I realised that everything is near everything else – if not geographically then psychologically. Aided by the grid system of the city centre, I quickly discovered that there are a dozen different routes to a given place, and it is remarkably easy to work out in which direction you are heading. I love this city (and its people) and, as much as I despise living in the UK, I cannot envisage living anywhere else. Part of my loathing for shopping malls stems from this desire to roam freely – I resent being herded along a single, congested thoroughfare.

Now that I live four miles from the centre of Glasgow, I still regularly make my way home on foot. One of my friends sees this constant walking as me seeking solitude, creating a space where I allow my thoughts to breathe, and this observation is astute of him. The road I walk, literally and not figuratively, is largely straight. Despite the distance, this makes it seem closer than it is – closer still if I have the partial company of someone who lives on the route. It is this last stretch, once we have gone our separate ways, and often in the early hours of the morning, where my plans formulate. The stillness of the night is remarkable, in stark contrast to the noise of four lanes of jammed and stationary vehicles which will congregate there a few hours later.

Whether I walk to think, or think because I am walking, it is a useful way to sort the notions and ideas in my head. Many is the one-liner or wee story that has come from this quiet time, or from an encounter just prior to it. Scenarios suggest or present themselves, and I twist them until I find the perfect way to express them – as a sentence, as a set of jokes that build, or as an entry on this site.

sct_WestEndParade015_1_0Above: The West End Festival 2013, as it passed Kelvingrove Art Gallery.

Earlier this year, at the West End festival, we followed it into and out of Kelvingrove Park. The park has a number of entrances, leading onto at least four main roads, and as the crowd dispersed a disoriented chap next to me stopped to get his bearings. “Whit street’s this?” he asked, as I passed, before working out which direction he needed to go in.

This incident came to mind late last week, when I went for a wander along the canal that is beside my home. I knew there was a path from it to the Botanic Gardens, but had never successfully found it. Although starting aimlessly, I took a turn off the towpath as idle curiosity drove me to seek it out. Taking this unknown route, passing through avenues of trees and diverting past some high flats, before negotiating down to and following the river, it would be easy to lose track of your position. I did not fear becoming lost, confident that I could always retrace my steps, but I imagined an exchange with the adroit wit of a typical, though non-existent, Glaswegian. We meet as we are walking in opposite directions along the canal, with me trying to find my way to this park.

“If I keep walking in this direction, where will I get to?”
“The coast.”

DSC_0213Above: Route to the east coast, if you are in no rush.

if i was still doing stand-up comedy, I might have used this or transformed it into something else. Instead, it went unwritten. At the weekend, I came to relate all of this in conversation – an acquaintance asking:

“Which canal, the Forth and Clyde Canal?”
“Yes.”
“Then it would take you to the Forth, or to the Clyde.”
“Oh yeah. It was well-named.”

You would still get to the coast, you would just come to a tidal river first.

Had I turned this into a tall story, I would now have a second or possibly even third laughter point in it. I yet might. I did, however, chance upon the correct turn-off – my walk along the waterway cleared my head, gave me a new joke, and the idea for this blog, and enhanced my knowledge of the local area. Compare that to the constant stop-start of smelly buses, noisily polluted by modern technology, arguing neds, crying children, and accompanied by the sounds of unnecessary air conditioning and a loudly-throbbing engine.

Buses can go fuck themselves. There is a more serene and scenic way to travel – foot.

DSC_0211Above: A more tranquil way to get to the Botanic Gardens, avoiding Great Western Road.


Driven To Distraction

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.


It Takes The Donations Of Millions To Move Us Forwards.

Like eighteen million others, I am now on the Organ Donor Register – but not by choice. This is surprising, as it seems a very personal decision to not be consulted on.

I have had plenty of chances to voluntarily sign up for donation, and have avoided all of them for no rational reason. I simply omitted to give it any thought, beyond the fleeting ones that occurred naturally, and those providing me with images with which I did not wish to contend. It was preferable to completely skip the issue, with its grisly reminder of mortality, and focus on something relatively cheerful instead.

It is five years since I first registered with a GP in Glasgow, and I have moved flat twice since then. One of my friends has just moved into my neighbourhood and, as she needed to find a practice to join, I took the opportunity to accompany her and sign myself up with a nearer surgery. The form had a section enquiring about one’s desire to participate in organ donation after death, and I bypassed it as I always have before. It is my understanding that Scotland, if not the entire UK, operates an opt-in scheme rather than an opt-out one; that is, you ask to be added to the scheme, you are not automatically added and then required to ask for your name to be withdrawn. The proposed mandatory inclusion is frequently subject to debate, but – as yet – consent is not presumed.  That said, Wales has recently voted to introduce it.

donor card

Two letters in identical envelopes arrived in the post yesterday, one addressed to me and one to my friend, who provided this as a care-of address during a recent transitional period. My letter thanks me “for joining the NHS Organ Donor Register through the GP service,” which I absolutely did not do. I jotted a note asking whether she had agreed to this, attached it to her mail, and popped it through her door when I was passing. The answer was no, or more specifically “what the fuck?! I haven’t signed anything like that.”

Either we both managed to misread the forms, agreeing to something that neither of us had a desire to volunteer for, or the receptionist or other unknown staff member ticked those boxes for us once they were out of our possession. It is nice to feel wanted, but disconcerting to think that only specific bits of us are wanted, and then only after the necessary precursor of death.

It has been pointed out to me that I can have my name removed if I wish. I am unable to think of sufficient justification for that, though. “Sorry, I have decided to keep all my organs once I have no further use for them. Tell those suffering that I’d like to help, but I’m not going to.” Better, I feel, to just concur. Among other vital parts, they want to take my heart, lungs, and liver – so I might save a few lives, and if not then they can cook up a sizeable haggis for the wake.

Above: My only previous encounter with Organ Donors.

My friend was equally pragmatic and shared my gallows humour, taking to Facebook to complain about the surgery’s apparent amendment to our completed registration documents. She added, referring to her party lifestyle, that “when I die, I won’t care what will happen to my body, so actually they can take whatever they want. Apart from the liver, cos I don’t have it any more.”

My sole objection, taking a very broad overview, is that I firmly believe the world is drastically over-populated; that there are already more people than the earth’s resources can sustain and it does us no favours to prolong life. However, reducing it to individual cases, I can only begin to imagine the difference that it must make to those who receive transplants, and the improvement to the lives of those who love and care about them. Condensed to that level, and being largely compassionate despite my inherent cynicism, I have no complaints. My name will remain on the list of potential donors.

If you want to register, or find out more, you can do so:
http://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/

 


Witness The Unconventional Solving Of A Bloody Problem

I used to post regularly on an internet forum for industry students and professionals. In truth, I posted too regularly, and without putting sufficient thought into many of my musings. It is important to know your audience – not on a personal level, but in order to gauge what is or is not appropriate. I was often inappropriate.

I did not deliberately set out to shock or offend, but I have a strange sense of humour and it does not always come over well in person, far less online. I have some unusual and off-kilter ideas, which I like to think is a keen sense of the absurd, but that does not always translate well to everyday people. It appears to be very good, in particular, for alienating me from vast swathes of middle- and southern-English people and from readers of the Daily Mail. After a year or so of frequent posting and resultant raised eyebrows, one of the more tolerant forum moderators politely but firmly suggested that I should perhaps find an alternative outlet.

I began channelling my creativity into writing less publicly, if not less provocatively, managing to complete a few drafts of a screenplay and one draft of an unpublished novel. I also took up stand-up comedy as a way of putting my skewed view and less-conventional thoughts across, with wit. I have barely posted on that forum since, and am grateful to (and respect) the mod who advised me to quit while I was behind. There were a few bones of contention, it seems, but one remains foremost in my mind – posted after I read two unrelated news stories and concocted an unorthodox solution.

Homosexual men are not allowed to donate blood, or were not (they can as of November 2011, provided they have not had anal or oral sex in the preceding twelve months.) There may be a shortage, certainly the campaigns never cease, and there is hypocrisy inherent in this legislation. Firstly, all donors are screened and all donations fully tested, making it ridiculous to exclude much-needed volunteers on the grounds of sexual preference. Secondly, there are plenty of promiscuous heterosexual people, some of whom statistically do not take sufficient precautions against contracting diseases. You can be straight and sleep with a dozen partners a week, yet you can still opt to give blood while a long-term monogamous gay couple are barred outright. This makes no sense.

At the same time, the religious beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses prohibit them from accepting blood transfusions. There have been a couple of high-profile news stories reporting on deaths that have come about from this backward notion. If someone you love is dying, and they could be saved by a relatively simple procedure that has been successfully carried out many thousands, if not millions, of times before, then I cannot fathom the mentality that would instead let them die.

I saw a chance to link these issues. You could immediately start taking blood donations from homosexual people, and then only offer it exclusively to Jehovah’s Witnesses – who would refuse it.

In this way, the gay community would be able to volunteer without prejudice, the blood banks would be able to maintain their outdated practices, and the Jehovah’s would be able to continue dying unnecessarily like they think their god wants.

In hindsight, I am inclined to agree that this is a bit of an extreme argument to make unsolicited on an unrelated forum. The proposed changes are hardly cost effective for a start. My main argument is that blood is blood, and since it is thoroughly checked then the source should not matter (well, provided it is voluntarily given.)

Since I first posted this evidently unpopular suggestion, the rules changed and gay men who have been celibate or abstained from sex for a year can now willingly contribute – which is a small advancement, at least.  It is possible that the religious doctrine is changing too.


A Different Kind Of Drinking Problem.

A major international soft drink manufacturer has recently begun emblazoning common first names on containers of their main products. I am unwilling to name the company in question, as I do not believe in giving most brands any undue mention that may help further embed their names in the public conscious. I am also certain that you can imagine who I refer to, given my opening sentence. They are not known for scrimping on their advertising or sponsorship budgets.

It is probably a shrewd move on their part to personalise bottles, leading people to seek out specific names and perhaps buy something they would otherwise not have purchased. I detest advertising and marketing though, and the dedicated psychologies that target consumers in attempts to sell us things we do not need and that do not benefit us. I make a deliberate effort to try and remain unsusceptible, as far as possible, while being aware of the power of suggestion. I despise commercials that are designed to tempt us by asking “why not try…?”  or telling me to “go on,” “treat myself,” or that I “am worth it.” Use of these and similar phrases is a sure-fire way to make me boycott whatever service or product you are hawking.

In the supermarket recently, I noticed a display of these canned soft drinks. Rather than being aimed at one person, as the individual bottles are, the multipacks are for sharing with “friends” or “family”, something about “summer”, and the one that caught my attention – “everyone.”

drink everyone

It is not clear to me how it can be possible to share twelve cans with “everyone.” One possible explanation is that this multinational corporation has now developed such a messianic view of itself that it believes that its primary carbonated output is akin to five loaves and two fish. Even Jesus only managed to feed five thousand in that way, considerably less than the current population of the world which could generally be considered to constitute “everyone.” With approximately seven billion people on earth, most are going to get barely a sniff from this particular pack size.

Another possibility is that a dozen people is indeed everyone. Given that there are no provisos, such as “everyone at your party” or “everyone in the meeting,” perhaps this design was accidentally released for sale early, being intended to go out after the nuclear holocaust/flooding/mutated superbug decimated our human number down to barely double figures. If this is the case, then how could the manufacturer know just how many survivors would be left? Conspiracy theorists, you can have some fun here if you wish.

A more realistic slogan would be to advocate sharing beverages with The Dirty Dozen, or with 12 Angry Men. You could try giving them to the days of Christmas, or to the Christian apostles. If you were so inclined, you could have one and spread the rest around every member of your favourite football team. Alternatively, they could have stopped short of quantifying who you should share it with, as it seems they have grossly underestimated how many of us there are.

When I ran the above observation past a friend, she envisaged a far different scenario – that you would share this liquid by opening a pack and distributing the contents freely to other shoppers around you. I much prefer this idea, taking the caption at face value and immediately presenting passers-by with tins as instructed. It would be similar to the experiment conducted in the brilliant pop-culture Adam And Joe Show of the late nineties, when they helped themselves to the free percentages of promotionally-marked items.

 

In response to this global supplier’s current strategy of printing different names on their bottles, the makers of Scotland’s homegrown and most popular soft drink adopted the idea with tongue firmly in cheek. Tying in to their own current advertising campaign, they printed up several thousand limited-edition bottles with the girls name Fanny. As well as being an outdated forename, the term is an everyday slang name for the female genitals and – therefore – also used as a (relatively mild) insult, often  between friends and on a par with eejit or numpty. Ya mad fanny.

They also produced bottles named Tam, Rab, and Senga – the first two being very common Scots versions of Tom and Rob, and the third being a ubiquitous though now largely under-used girls name.

Given the dual meaning of “fanny,” it is easy to derive risque or vulgar humour from it. For instance, with reference to the photo below, it can be said that it is wet and it tastes good; it is best enjoyed when it is wet on the inside; some guys see it and lose their bottle; nothing wrong with a bit of fanny juice. You can probably come up with your own too, and by placing two bottles together you can refer to them colloquially as “a pair of fannies.”

I do hate advertising, and yet I have a wee soft spot for a local, highly successful business whose ad campaigns are famously risky, cheeky, bold, funny, innovative, silly, memorable, definitely Scottish, parodical, and genuinely entertaining. It makes them a lot more tolerable.

IMAG7095-1


Napoleon Complexes, And The £64,000 Penis (Part Two)

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.

Hicks Business

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.

looney-tunes-foghorn-wallpaperAbove: A giant man-made cock

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.


Protected: Napoleon Complexes, And The £64,000 Penis (Part One)

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:


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



Drunken Text Menaces

This is one of my favourite stories to tell, despite the fact I come across as a bit of a dick in it. I will blame that partly on being drunk, partly on being in cahoots with a good friend, and partly on the insistence of the eventual victim that I should do something a bit dickish. I am not sure that he likes me regaling people with this tale, but it was just so damned funny that it still makes me laugh a year or more later.

Two of my friends are involved and, to protect their identities outwith our immediate social circle, I shall refer to them here as “Steven” and “Alice.” This serves to differentiate the male friend from the female friend and, if you do not immediately get the reason for the choice of names, please see the video at the very bottom of this post.

At the end of a night out, all three of us came back to my flat and continued drinking, Unable to drink our mixers straight, we diluted them with the better part of a litre of rum, consumed by the pint. Whatever sobriety remained in the room diminished rapidly.

At one point, somewhere in the wee small hours, Steven picked up Alice’s phone, and began composing a text. She became vaguely aware of this action, and eventually seized it from him. He had addressed it to her ex, and written something both silly and provocative – “What are you wearing?” She rapidly deleted it, admonishing Steven with mock outrage and underlying good humour.

 

Minutes later, Steven left the room to answer a call of nature. Drinking anything by the pint is going to have that effect after a while. However, given the mischief he had just concocted, he made the rookie error of leaving his phone within the sight – and reach – of Alice. She wasted no time in drunkenly lunging for it, scrolling through the address book to locate an appropriate recipient. She managed to select the contact stored as “Mum.”

Unfamiliarity with predictive text and an overindulgence in alcohol served to render useless her attempts to construct anything meaningful, and she engaged my help. It is possible that I offered to help, the upshot being that I wrote the offending message. It was indeed offending. I based it on what I remembered of a Jimmy Carr line, yet somehow managed to lower the tone of it and make it even more vulgar.

carr bath joke

In my outstretched left hand, I held Steven’s phone aloft. It was primed and ready to send a text to, by all reasonable guesses, his mum – a text which read “Thinking of you. I’ve just come.”

I am not proud of myself.

With my right hand, I was trying to fend off my friend Alice, as she fought vigorously to regain possession of our friend’s phone. It was this scene of amused panic and physical interaction which greeted Steven on his return. As he registered what was unfolding before him, and thinking I had followed his lead in winding up Alice, I asked if I should send the text. That was to prove his undoing.

“Yes!” he shouted enthusiastically, “Send, send send!”

I did not have to be told twice. I duly hit the “send” button and then – as Alice relaxed her grip on my arm and retreated back to her seat – I offered him the hardware that I held and said “Okay. There’s your phone back.”

His face fell, confusion registering as he asked “What?”

carr bath joke 2

There was little that Alice or I could do, save for descending into helpless laughter at his predicament. He laughed too, eventually, although he still gets a bit annoyed about it periodically – usually when we are together and I ask whoever we are in the company of “Do you want to hear a story about Steven?” He tells me that his mum still believes me to be a bad influence – she is probably right – and not a very nice person (which I would disagree with.)

In my defence, Steven was entirely complicit in the rascality wrought – when he thought it was somebody else’s phone, he was extremely happy for me to issue a mischievous communication. It was only when it became apparent that the joke was on him that he found it less funny.

It was funny though. Primarily for the high contrast between his delighted goading and befuddled despair.

I occasionally worry that karma will catch up with me for this one, despite Steven’s eagerness for me to noise someone up. However, as it is always my story to tell, I suspect that it informs people’s opinions of me as much as it says anything about him. I blame it on being drunk and playing the game he initiated and Alice continued, during a memorable night of much hilarity, as I would not normally involve myself with prank texts or calls.

That said, I am naturally a wind-up merchant, and this is something about which I can easily wind him up. I am sorry that his mum had to read that text, but otherwise I have no regrets.

I did at least change his name.

 


Turning Tricks, And Turns Of Phrase

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.

 

bros hos

 

The Two Ronnies, and some confusion over “hoes” – starts at 2m 18s.


Theatre – Having Fun With Your Five-A-Day

I have been involved with the theatre for most of my life, at some level or other, and have worked backstage professionally or semi-professionally since I was legally old enough to do so. The difference between being amateur and being professional can be defined by attitude. To remove doubt, I have been fortunate to be able to sustain myself doing a job that I love.

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”
– Confucius

theatre ionesco

Years ago, when I had not long started out, I found myself working in the major local venue with most of the amateur dramatic companies in the area. In fact, I was there so often that they eventually put me on their books as casual staff. When the building closed for refurbishment, I sought employment from most of the theatres in Glasgow. I had no joy, but took the time to submit an application to the (then) Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama – and was accepted. Thus, I even did my degree in the subject that I loved.

Prior to starting my course, I purchased dozens of published plays to enhance my knowledge beyond the musicals with which I was more familiar. I had not had the chance to see or work on many dramatic works, although my Higher Drama had given me a longstanding love of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. The drama department at my school was initiated, by coincidence, the same year that I began my secondary schooling. Due to the curriculum and qualifications I chose, I was one of the first few people to study the subject for all six of my years there – the obligatory first two years, then two years for my Standard Grade, an SVQ module (I think – it was a long time ago now), and my Higher.

What I quickly discovered, once I began my degree, was that no real knowledge of or passion for theatre was required. It was a course that was virtually impossible to fail, provided you turned up every day and did the bare minimum of work required. Whatever the dubious merits of the course, and they were often dubious, I spent the summer prior to my studies by immersing myself in the written works of Miller, Pinter, Orton, Ionesco, Stoppard, and others. It didn’t relate to my eventual coursework in any way, but it gave me pleasure and saw me build up a small library that I still refer to on occasion.

theatre stoppard

The theatre that I know, and grew to love, is not just populated with intelligent people, it also introduced me to some of the funniest people I have ever known, and some of the sickest and dirtiest conversations and jokes I have yet been party to. Just in case you thought this particular blog entry was going to be high-brow…

After the run of one show, when I was aged seventeen or eighteen, I was in the venue early on a Sunday morning to continue the “get-out” of the scenery and props. I was then the youngest person on the crew, working with several guys who had been doing this for at least as many years as I had lived. The cameraderie was second to none, and that crew in particular took me under their wing and showed me a lot. They taught me the ropes (the origin of that very expression) and taught me to drink.

We began the day with the customary raid of the deserted dressing rooms, seeking out the remnants of the final-performance tins of sweets that the cast always brought in. One of our number emerged onto the stage a short time later, unpeeling a banana.

“Where did you get that??” Someone asked.

“Dancers’ dressing room,” was the matter-of-fact reply.

“You don’t know where that’s been!”

“Yes I do,” he said, responding to the implied innuendo. He deliberately sniffed along the entire length of the banana, then looked up.
“And I know which one it was too.”

 

Filthy. Fucking funny. Fond memories.

 

theatre orton


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.


It’s All Fun And Games Until You Realise You’re Being A Dick About Music.

When I was eighteen, I knew everything. I knew that I was smart, I knew that I was funny, and I knew that the music I listened to was the only music worth listening to. I especially subscribed to the mantra “if it’s not metal, it’s not music.”

This elitist belief denied me some of the finest music ever made, and although my taste widened enough to incorporate a vast amount of classic rock and even some indie, as well as the punk I had discovered at the age of 16, I deliberately denied myself the pleasure of anything vaguely termed “dance music.”

It was not always this way, but my earliest album purchases – Iron Maiden’s The Number Of The Beast and The Shamen’s Boss Drum – had seen me pursue the former as my way of (teen) life. I spent entire student loans on Maiden memorabilia, which is still in my possession (and soon up for sale.) I still love the latter album, but for years I stubbornly refused to acknowledge the artistry or musicianship involved in any of the music that got repeat radio airplay. There were songs that came out that I liked – Born Slippy by Underworld; Hey Boy, Hey Girl by The Chemical Brothers; Around The World by Daft Punk – but in an age when music had to be bought to obtain it (or taped off the radio) I didn’t engage with these iconic songs enough to purchase them.

 

It all changed when I was nineteen, and it all changed because of a girl. I think the age had less to do with it.

It was a chance meeting: I had gone to a gig with a friend to see some band he was into, their name being the only thing I now recall about them. Afterwards, he was refused entry to the club night due to a lack of ID. He went home, and I went in to see a casual friend I’d seen at the gig and recognised from school. She introduced me to the group she was with, and one girl in particular caught my immediate attention. This was in April 2001.

On the back of this turn of events, I found myself with a new social life, going to The Cathouse every Friday night to hear the same music played upstairs that now, in April 2013, they still play downstairs every Saturday night. The girl I liked, she despised Iron Maiden, and her own all-time favourite band was Depeche Mode.

Depeche Mode. “Haha, Depressed Mode!” I said, full of the ineptitude and cockiness that had helped render me entirely single for the duration of my life up to that point. This wordplay combined two of my favourite things – being a play on words and also a pop culture reference (it’s the name of a remix on Type O Negative’s Least Worst Of album) – or three of my favourite things if you include my longstanding habit of making quick-witted remarks at every available opportunity. Well, almost every opportunity – I’ve spent years learning that sometimes it is better to remain silent, for various reasons. Learning to enjoy the silence.

This conversation may have been the moment that changed my life.

I didn’t particularly want to belittle someone for their taste in music, finally maturing a bit as I then was, and I certainly didn’t want to do so ignorantly. Not to a girl I liked, anyway. I decided, perhaps for the first time, to check the band out before dismissing them out of hand. That way, I would have an informed opinion, grounds on which to judge them. If that sounds like a mixture of arrogance and common sense, then that is probably what it was.

It was the time of Napster and AudioGalaxy, of 56k dial-up modems that screeched intolerably as they downloaded one MP3 file every fifteen or twenty minutes. Depeche Mode had just released an album – Exciter – and I picked a track from it at random, probably based on the size of the file or the anticipated download time. I forget which track, although I think it was “Shine”, but down it came and I played it. To my surprise, I liked it. I liked it a lot. I downloaded the entire album, and burned it to CD using then-emerging technology. Given how commonplace downloading has become, the speeds now involved, and the gradual eradication of physical media formats, it is crazy to realise that a mere 12 years ago we still believed our VHS tapes were collectors items, while DVDs were some exotic and expensive novelty.

 

I enjoyed the “Exciter” album, and I went out and bought, on CD, in shops, the compilation albums “Singles 81>85” and “Singles 86>98”. The latter opened with Stripped, and I knew there was no chance that it could possibly be as good as one of my then-favourite tracks: Charlie Clouser’s remix of the Rammstein cover version. Again, I found myself proved wrong. Stripped, in its original form, is such a beautiful and subversive song. It far surpasses the excellent cover.

My eyes were opened, as was my mind, and I fell in love with DM and their melodic, entrancing music. I loved their experimentation with musical styles and with samples. I loved their music, I loved their lyrics, and I loved how dark and subversive they were. This is how it began. I started buying up their back catalogue on CD, including the occasional maxi-single when it appeared in the local second-hand record stores, and I picked up most of their early video releases in the same way. Again, those VHS tapes were collectors items at the time, yet they are now obsolete and (I suspect) largely worthless. I had been wrong.

I downloaded one of their tracks, so as to have a basis from which to decry them. And then I downloaded the rest of that album. Then I bought their two “best of” albums. Over the years that followed I bought the entirety of their back catalogue, various tribute albums, half a dozen second-hand videos, three or four DVDs, a paperback band biography, five t-shirts, a hooded top, some posters, most of singer Dave Gahan’s solo output, and tickets to see them on four occasions on three tours in two countries.

I think there was a valuable lesson in there, about prejudice, about arrogance, and about not being a dick. It has certainly led me to be a lot more open-minded, and was the first step in the considerable broadening of my musical taste. Not least because I barely listen to Iron Maiden (or even metal) these days, and now own a huge number of albums by The Chemical Brothers, Underworld, and Daft Punk. Underworld are one of my top five favourite live acts too.

As for this girl, who was the unwitting catalyst for this voyage of discovery? We dated for a few months, we stopped, we remained the closest of friends. She was there at the very start of my twenties, and she was still there at the start of my thirties. I trust and respect nobody on this planet more, and have mentioned before how her influence, inspiration, and significance in my life is second to none. This morning, I phoned the ticketline the minute it opened and bought our tickets to see Depeche Mode play live at the end of the year. It will be only their second Glasgow show in about twenty years. We were at the last one too, and I bought the officially-released live CD recorded on the night.

 

“You don’t have to come with me,” she said when I asked if she wanted me to get tickets, the nature of our friendship having changed although the fierce loyalty remains. “I’m happy to just go alone.”

I cannot imagine seeing them without her beside me. We made a pact shortly after we met in 2001, having just missed the Exciter Tour, that we would definitely travel to see them on the next tour. True to that, we went to Manchester and London in 2006 (when again there was no Scottish show), and saw them in Glasgow in 2009. I have every intention that we will see them together in 2013.

Now I am 31 and I am fully aware that I definitely do not know everything. What I do know, though, is that I was exceptionally fortunate to meet her.