Sunday, February 8, 2009

He dreams of corporate boxes, he instead chokes on Robitussin



The apex of Scottish society these days - and I apologize if I've been harsh on midwinter Ayrshire in the early 90s, the discontent of my own mind and the Thatcherite/Woganesque awful cultural grind made it seems worse than it probably was - currently stands like this. You'll be in conversation with someone, say over a French cake and a cup of tea or if you are really lucky a Yum Yum. Whether you have asked how so and so is getting on or not is irrelevant, it will come up eventually if this particular aspiration is fulfilled. The pinnacle of achievement for anyone in a workforce in Scotland is now free tickets to a corporate box at, say, Old Trafford or Anfield or some kind of soccer ground. I was thrown by this because I always thought, given Scottish people don't go out on Saturday night, the best achievement you could gain was the latest fanciest satellite TV gadget. When I lived in Ayrshire, we were a trial town for Sky TV and we got things like Eurosport before anyone else (late 80s womens wrestling, so hot!), and it was in the paper and everything, Dad getting to say how exciting it was we could be the first people in the UK to say the phrase 58 channels and nothing on...when the person who knows someone who has achieved this feat of corporate boxing, they will say that and then retract their voice from the conversation, allowing a suitable pause for you to jump in with your admiration and impressed glances. Strangely, in the next of my old next door neighbours kid, I didn't feel that envious - he was stuck in England in a job he hated, and when I knew him all he was remarkable for his aforementioned man crush on the school bus driver. He's the kind of person I see every 4our years who always says when I'm on holiday we'll catch up for a coffee (as maturation has kicked in, it's stopped being a pint) and we never do. Still, I managed to make the just the right amount of impressed cooing, and the moment passed until the Rangers game came back on the telly and I didn't need to talk anymore. Scotland can be funny like that - despite allegedly being anti snobbery and chest beating about everyone being working class, most people are desperate to accumulate trinkets and cachets. This is a good thing, but wee Leanne round the corner gets herself a Ford, and suddenly she's forgot where she's came from in the neighbourhood gossip. As soon as you get off the plane, everyone makes sure to tell you the last thing you should do is live in Ayrshire, but if you do get out, and move to Tasmania, you are a snob and a sell out. It's all incredibly complex and strange, but luckily, the cakes are super delicious, which usually makes the stories of success vaguely bearable. Besides which, most standard issue Scottish council houses have nice big windows that you can stare out and try and work out just what that tree in the back garden is supposed to be growing. Peaches? Oranges? Sometimes you can get through an entire composite fruit salad before you have to re-engage with the conversation...what's that you say, two tickets for Ibrox? Fascinating, how many sales did he make to get them...

My primary school in Irvine would routinely drum into us the need to escape. My maths teacher would disparage anyone who's ambitions didn't involve moving abroad and never coming back. I wonder if it was her idea to take us to Prestwick Airport that time, for a taste of the good life, a school trip largely to sit in the first class seat of an Air Canada plane for 120 seconds of trouble free reclining before you were turfed back out into the real world and mocked for having dreams above your station and a parent who had no job. My Mum, in one of her largely undervalued attempts to make me popular, had bought me a bag of warehouse white chocolate bars from one of those big 200 cans of beans for a pound stores on the edge of town - a Thatcherite enterprise that for once worked - and I doled them out to everyone, vaguely aware that this was not a path I wanted to follow to gain popularity, but greatful for the attention anyway. I know that despite this, the first thing that would have happened would have been someone would have probably mocked the silver generic label of the bar, even as they said to me how thoughtful I was for bringing white chocolate (I was all out of myrrh obviously). Still, such chocolate based social issues couldn't compare to the hormonal charge given by flight attendant Stephanie, a vintage late 80s Canadian beauty who sounded suspiciously like she was from Dalry and was putting an accent on, but to quote Nelson from the Simpsons some of us prefer illusion to despair. She had a personable manner, blue eye shadow (settle), late 80s Kim Wilde style hair and a short skirt and was probably the closest any of us had got at that stage to being hit on in the name of professionalism - none of us had met Bicardi models at that time. She was very chatty to us all as she ehed and aahed over us, fastening our seatbelts as we strapped ourselves in. We didn't obviously go anywhere, it was a first class experience without the flying, as we went behind the curtain and just sat in the seat, got a free milk or something, and then got off again after Stephanie showed us her whistle (stop it!). It was a little like meeting the Swedish volleyball team and then watching them play volleyball. As a day out, it was one of my more interesting school trips - I think it was meant to be educational, perhaps a chance to show us what could be achieved if we buckled down, but that wasn't made absolutely clear, it was left to us to decode the message, and the boys were just perving and the girls were trying to steal the inflight magazine, so it didn't sink in as it should. It says a lot through for the strange values of the Scottish education system that once we had said goodbye to Stephanie and articles about Estonian wine, we were given a demonstration on airport security that was so thorough and detailed it seemed designed to give our criminal corps something of their own to aspire to. You could see them muttering and looking the way all the normal kids were looking at Stephanie, debating as to whether or not now they had learned all the tricks of customs if they could smuggle tobacco into France. As school trips go, there was definitely something for everyone...

Still, such a small glimpse into a better world of bigger seats and hostesses that didn't look like they worked for Jetstar didn't inspire me to work hard and achieve, nor did the Lamborghini I circled in a Guinness Book Of Records one year, and I didn't end up smuggling anything into France, although didn't stop a painful search of my boots in Paris. I might not have flown first class, and Stephanie has never poured me coffee and spoke in a bewildering mixed accent, but I did get into a corporate box one night - by blatantly lying, which most of the people in there had done at some stage anyway. Thanks to a relative lack of security in more innocent times at the Telstra Dome and low attendance, I was able to sneak into a Melbourne football club - and so you know, no one supports Melbourne, so it's pretty easy to do - function and help myself to a mix of sandwiches and free drink. No one was watching the game, I was handed a selection of business cards just in case I was important and the whole thing seemed kind of joyless and depressing, like a big bank function or a timeshare meeting. Whenever someone, to use a Scottish expression, bums their chat about going into a corporate box, my own experience doesn't seem to correlate to anything especially memorable, although that everything was free seems to impress most people. Why this is the most aspirational dream of the Scottish middle class still seems beyond me, but I did have a nice chat with Jim Stynes, one of Melbournes old players, about Celtic rings which seems completely surreal in hindsight. As the bedraggled cocktail dress wearing WAGs bypassed me on their way to pick up footballers, and I was left more or less alone with a plate of cocktail franks and a dispossessed sense of social fatigue, I realised that I spent most of the function holding a plastic viking helmet - on the way in, the Viking chocolate people had given me it free as a promotion, and I had swanned in, pretended to support Melbourne and back them financially, and all the while to the bemusement of the 3hree people in attendance I had been clutching an amusing novelty prop. At which point a drunk but utterly amiable Bob Skilton, a former footballer from what you might call the good old days, stumbled past and giggled something about how much he liked my hat. I shook his hand, he gave me a business card, and left a rather bedraggled looking DJ trying to keep the party going to gain his nominal fee as I virtually turned out the party lights...I'm sure that not all corporate boxes have such bewilderingly inept gatherings but it was definitely a glimpse that not everything was worth the price of admission, even if it was free. When I went outside, a simpering employee made sure I had enjoyed myself and offered to get my car out of the car park or something like that. Morally guilty, I shuffled off a little dejected, fully aware that no matter what I might say out loud, I'm more comfortable eating a pie in a stand surrounded by the general public than I am swapping business cards with the regional employee of the month at a lighting firm while people are fighting over the last prawn sandwich to the strains of Shanks and Bigfoot...somedays I'm glad I'm like that, and somedays I'm not, and given I'm Scottish, catholic and prone to guilt, neither seems like a satisfactory outcome...

My cousin, for what it's worth, died of overwork trying to get these little days here, tickets to there, maybe even a boat later in life - all seems kind of pointless now. At least he tried I guess. There are days I think with a dose of ambition and effort I could be doing better in life - certainly I could be at the cricket in Sydney instead of being in my house choking on Robitussin because I have everyones favourite kind of cough, a chesty one. Mind you, I have a friend who in the maelstrom of an economic downtorn that makes even bragging about your quality of chocolate biscuits seems vulgar, could lose his job, and he was the classic go getter, trying to sell product in bars to the bemusement of everyone and he was willing to move around the country to get ahead. On Tuesday morning, I'll drive past a million school kids going back to their studies, and wonder for a moment about what path they will take - whether like me, the homework never comes out of the bag and they'll think about other things like whatever happened to Shanks and Bigfoot anyway or if they'll be determined and sign up for extra classes, and then I'll move on mentally because I'm amount to plough into the back of an SUV - should really pay attention to the road. Besides which, my e-mail box is now full of invites to go to Kermandie football oval - it doesn't have a corporate box, just a big log fire, which seems both cool and within my social status. After all, it was one year ago today I achieved the pinnacle of this states society - a tent at the Hobart Cup near the Win television tent. The effect of social grandeur was rather ruined by the sight of relatively drunken semi famous Tasmanians falling in the dirt, two of our own party engaging in seething mutual loathing, and by a man sitting on the roof of his car with his arm around two Asian prostitutes. My long borne out theory is, no matter what the occasion, social barriers come down because of alcohol and everyone just ends up drunk and dancing to Nutbush City Limits or The Black Eyed Peas. A gimlet eyed social wannabe high on life and drunk on Midori accosted our party to engulf us in a busty hug and proclaim that life didn't get any better than the Hobart Cup - well, I presume that was the implication it really came out as li my ooh great - and maybe to her it didn't, but I declined to agree. I had long ago stopped social climbing, and I wasn't about to start now. Besides which, by the time she released her hug to run over to hug a newsreader, well, I realised I not only wasn't about to start, frankly, I wouldn't be capable of such fakery...

Mind you, my Mum can still bring up I had a marquee at the horse racing and have been in a corporate box at the football when she has a yum yum, so I've done something to make her proud...

10 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

We are living in Roman times. The gladitorial games are everything.

Megan said...

"It was a little like meeting the Swedish volleyball team and then watching them play volleyball" - oh my sides hurt.

the projectivist said...

wow - another too kool for skool excursion! why didn't i ever get to go on an Air Canada plane when i was a child?!

i'm sure your mum is proud of you, Miles, for more than just the marquee and the corporate box. is she a regular reader of your blog?

(an aside: hello Mrs Miles!)

Miles McClagan said...

That is definitely true, every single family is now fighting for status, it's getting bitchy! No fun!

If I did meet the Swedish volleyball team, I'm sure it would be for autographs...I just have that feeling...them and the Danish handball team...

All of my school trips were strange, that one was kind of cool but weird - a school trip to the airport to sit on a plane and see a bag inspection? Skinners box factory really. No, Mum doesn't read the blog! She's only just found Youtube, that takes her time up!

Quickroute said...

if i were to smoke a certain substance this vid would probably be great! I was in your neck of the woods last week - well Glasgow anyhoos

squib said...

That is hilarious - the whole trying out first class bit. Also am I the only person who can't stand Nutbush City?

Mrs Slocombe said...

Did you think of taking your boots off before they searched them? As a slack intermittenter, I detect streamlining and increased propulsion, Miles. You might be the next Malcolm Campbell, of the cyberwaters.

Miles McClagan said...

That clip was from the magical three weeks UK Garage was the future of music. How is Glasgow? Hopefully still a wonderland!

It was a great trip, I think more school trips should involve sitting on planes for two minutes. I hate Nutbush also. It's just...wrong.

Well they were laced really tight. I threw a bit of a strop, it was all a bit silly. It was also late at night, I was tired...maybe the propulsion was just Shanks and Bigfoot making everything swing nicely!

Baino said...

I think there's a 'reverse' ambition going on here too . . .going to the 20/20 game and sitting in the bleachers with a free "I love Binga" t shirt and silly green and yellow striped hat seems to carry more cudos than a corporate box.

Miles McClagan said...

Ah, 20/20, I made a tool of myself outside Bellerive when the first 20/20 game was on for, when asked about my thoughts on TV, saying it was great because it was shorter than a 50 over game...

Which is right, but no one was inviting me into high society with that comment...