Friday, January 2, 2009

Questions of national identity would be an ecumenical matter



As much as I'm hoping, nay, actively trying to make 2009 a memorable year, I can't say from a fundamental standpoint a lot has, yet, changed. The automon still rules with a robotic brain, although I love that people are conned by vouchers as a gesture of thanks. Things are terrible, work is awful, but sweetening the deal at the end of the day you get a voucher to spend some money at Target. In a sense the greatest thing I learned from my Dad is not to stand up for people at work, because they always back down and don't support you, usually because they've been given a voucher. Someone at work doubts whether I can get on a horse, which in that festival of new year thinking makes you think you know what I'm going to get on a horse and show you, but which by, oh, mid February fizzles out to nothing, a shopping centre rocking horse if you are lucky. The person who made the judgement on my horse climbing abilities lost one of her dogs to the heavens when one of her other dogs got it's lead caught on the first dogs lead and choked it to death - she's amazing melancholy over it, so I don't have the heart to tell her the Sea Monkeys she got me died. It might all be too much. In 2009, I want to write more, but whether I do or not depends on the quality of cartoons on the Boomerang channel. I don't think anyone believed me either that I really did have dehydration - it is a pretty wussy disease, but Dr Feelgood gave me a certificate, so how can anyone dispute? I'm sure it was discussed around the Moro bars at lunchtime though. My e-mail inbox is piling up with nonsense in the middle of all this - restlessly struggling with in jokes, unfunny group e-mails, the odd Nigerian prince offering me a fortune, and very little in the way of poignancy and genuine news. Flippant e-mails - pop culture references, pictures of bikini clad girls pouting, but no real answers to pointed questions. And at the end of my day, the Irish girl we are working with, all curls and over acted injuries and blether at a million miles an hour, has decided to take issue with the TV programme Father Ted. I don't know how it's come up, but it's only fair, she has listened to me tell her Scotland is a vibrant upthrusting country (well some of it) that doesn't bear any resemblance to shortbread tins or Jimmy Shand records. It's fair enough that she sees Ireland as a country with wonderful hills and fantastic culture, bearing no resemblance to a priest based comedy from the mid 90s in which the word feck is used with gusto. In the midst of this mutual national identity stall setting, someone brought out a plate of lolly snakes, on a china plate with a neat pattern, and it's sheer hyprocisy for me to be berating those conned into believing all is well by a voucher, as I buy into the idea that work isn't so bad as soon as a red piece of chewy candy is slipped into my path. The Australian who works with us, quite without thinking, says a variant on to be sure, in an Irish accent, and our flightly friend quite forgets all about the candy, and verges on indignation...I don't blame her, but I'm caught up in my Popbitch e-mail and don't respond, although I hope no one brings up Dana...we could never have got out there...

Three moments of real national identity for me as a Scot spring to mind. 1989, Irvine, Ayrshire, the wind violent and smell in the air suspiciously salty. It's a fair, possibly for Merrimas, although I'm not sure, I haven't been here long enough to pick up on all the local nuances. I'm surviving day to day in the popularity stakes just by knowing what's happening on Home and Away. I'm waiting for a friend of mine by the waltzers, a ride at the fair in which children cling precariously to the side of a violently rotating car pretending to have fun while they try and survive to the thumping strains of Sonia over the PA. Every so often a man in overalls or a greasy shirt will spin the car to provide more entertainment. The men in the greasy shirts preen their thick handlebar moustaches as they scan the crowd for late 80s girls, with frizzy perms and tight nylon skirts, hairdressers of the future with unjustified airs of superiority. It's freezing cold, entertainment is as rare as a genuinely cooked kebab, and we drink cans of Irn Bru by the truck load to try and make our brains come alive through the sheer power of fizz. Across from the waltzers is a terrible looking pub at the end of a large concrete pub, underneath a temporary structure that looks like it could collapse in high winds. Two friends argue in front of me - apparently one of them at the highest point of the ferris wheel undid the security bolt and they nearly fell out. A psychotic child stares at me from the carousel, munching wickedly on his fairyfloss, as one of his eyes goes to the shops and the other comes back with the change. I shift uncomfortably as he stares, and as one of the permed jet set, imprisoned in her tight denim prison with her hair sub Sharleen Spiteri, lustfully begins groping one of the Waltzer attendants - Sharon does Irvine style - and then, it rains. Thick anarchic rain, pounding off the ground in horrible chaotic blows, the pavement seeming to buckle under the torrent of water. No one apart from me moves though - the denim hairdresser is still fiddling away, the psychotic kid is still staring blankly into the evil distance, and the drinkers at the pub are wonderfully unmoved. I, being a relatively recent arrival with a (fading) permanent tan, did not respond as calmly to this impending flood in which all the Ayrshire shellsuits would go onto the ark two by two, and ran, ran for the hills. As I ran, and I'll be honest, I don't run especially gracefully, I ran straight past two girls growing into their bras, two girls who's casual air of disdain should have melted into serious concern because their hair dye was already running quicker than me, and one of them, the uglier of the two even though that's a real judgement call, questions my sexuality. I realise this is Scotland, and I had better start acting like it. So I called her a nasty name back in a rich and thick Ayrshire ned voice and almost made her cry. I wasn't proud of it, oh no, it was hardly a moment of Wildeian inspiration, but as a moment of sheer Scottishness, it was very hard to top...

A god forsaken school leadership camp, 1996. A rope swing idly sits in the middle of a small playground like an abandoned child. Suspiciously it is surrounded by large police style tape telling people to keep off. Since there's nothing else to do, much later there is a stampede towards it, the police tape scattered to the wind. Nothing is ever proven, but the lady who runs the place, a cross between Collette and a stroke, is not best pleased. I'm trying my new thing - irony. I must have read about it in a magazine when I was on my godforsaken holiday in Scotland that winter, when I was huddled in a freezing house with my rapidly mentally fading grandmother and friends I hadn't realised that had left me behind in their pursuit of birds. I want to espouse a theory, maybe a controversial popular culture opinion, but irony isn't working on these Tasmanian ears the way Loaded magazine seemed to make it sound like it would, and the only thing that's keeping me in the conversation is a rudimentary knowledge of Oasis. Teachers make speeches which bounce off our heads, and everyone is dreading the idea of a talent show in which middle aged men will do single entendres for a moment of laughter that will lead to a lifetime of disrespect. And at the back of the room, a ginger know it all is turning my accent against me. His freckles are positively bouncing in glee as he tries to get me to do a bit from an advert where someone says something humourous in a Scottish accent. No matter what I try and say, he turns it against me, like an effervescent fire fly with a Bernard Manning like grasp of race relations. He's been doing it since I got off the bus, and eventually I crack. I say the line, I don't want to, but lord knows I could do with the solitude, that rope swing won't rope swing by itself. Unless there's a strong breeze of course. He says the line was funnier in his head and walks off muttering. I roll my eyes, plotting hypothetical revenges that will never come to fruition. He's demeaned my national identity, and he's done it through the means of advertising - such an outrage will not go unpunished. Luckily though, I don't need to do very much. Long after the final memory of the geography teacher trying to do some what is the deal with globes I mean you spin them and they won't stop spinning I mean what is up with that stand up comedy has faded, I have to step over the same red headed step child who, after attending a party thrown in the room of our alleged cool girl, has had far too much to drink and is curled up in a painful ball underneath the rope swing. I feel a great deal of pride in my country at that point as he struggles against the poison running through him - we might be easily mockable in advertising, comedy sketches and every third episode of The Simpsons, but we can handle our drink without the need to pass out. Mostly. I'm so proud, a Corries song comes into my head, I feel a national superiority to all Tasmanians, especially when I realise that he's lost his pants...

Irvine, 2007. I'm on holiday, but I barely recognise my own country anymore. Single mothers with stretchmarks growing over tattoos stand outside the local ASDA swearing to each other while their children run amok, and a chewing gum pattern lines the pavement with a million little lost bits of Hubba Bubba and indifference. I don't feel anymore like I'm home as such, not least because as soon as I step off the plane everyone tells me how terrible the country is and it's all the fault of cheeky bloody weans and how lucky it is I don't live here anymore. It's grey and grim, just as I remember it, and a plastic bag poetically waxes and wanes through the air until coming to rest in a pile of litter set aside next to the shopping trolleys. Inside ASDA though, the world is, if not fantastic, at least clean. The shopping mall in Irvine is like an attractive middle child in a family of mingers, a lovely clean glittering monument between two decaying lumps of social rubble round which the bewildered wander hopelessly from drug deal to charity shop. I'm on my moral high horse inside the shop tutting at the decay, almost pressing my hand to my head and swooning at the deprivation, when I knock a whisky bottle off the shelf. It hangs agonizingly in the air for a moment and then lands hard on the ground. I look around and notice no one has seen me do it, and I can make a quick getaway if I can stop enjoying the subtle strains of Girl From Ipanema over the PA. Such a catchy song. I make my escape, only momentarilty guilty that some minimum wage trainee will have to sweep up the strands of glass. It will be character building. I go and get my French cakes and my mince pies and my exotic juice, and go back to check what has happened to my little accident of clumsiness. I look and see a baseball capped wee ned with eyes spinning like a poker machine scooping up the remains, and putting trying to put the liquid into a flask. It's a pretty pathetic sight, and eventually he's removed by staff security. I leave the store after a moments contemplation - not about social decay, about Kerry Katona on the front of Heat - and go to get the bus home. An old woman sees my Collingwood jacket and knows what it is. She begins a one sided conversation about how rubbish Ayrshire is, how rubbish Scotland is and how rubbish the rubbish is, waving her hands dismissively at anyone younger than fifty. However, as the bus pulls up, her friend gets off, and instead of getting on it, she hugs her friend and they disappear in the direction of cream buns and civil conversation. I think for a moment that places like this, places that are a monument to Thatcherite neglect and council indifference, still have genuinely good people in them, people who step round the junkies and the smashed up stores, and get on with their lives. Scotland though feels strange to me - I am from there, but the place, I don't get it all the time, but I do get the people, and I do get the notion of keep yer heid up...

I'm off to watch a Father Ted DVD...non judgementally of course...

3 comments:

Jannie said...

"a cross between Collette and a stroke" FUNNEE!! I was just reading some Collette today, therefore know how close to a stroke that writing comes.

anodyne Brownie said...

just arrived here from governor_general.blogspot.com/ where there is also an ecumenical post going on, Father Ted featuring of course.

I had to skip over a few paras to miss the sad dog story and will just say happy new year and run away depressed.

the news online mentions
"Govt program to warn drivers of level crossings"

I mean, where to bloody start?

they have RED FLASHING FKING LIGHTS FER CHRISSAKES.
the drivers test needs an IQ test component. it really does.

Miles McClagan said...

Stroke writing, it's a genre all of itself...

It's Father Ted mania! Who would have thought it! Sorry about the sad dog story though...I could easily work out a stand up routine Seinfeld "what is the deal with that!" routine about the level crossings...what is up with that! What is literally up with that!