A Subversive View on Scottish Independence

Saturday, 13 September 2014

With less than a week to go before we discover whether a union that, at times has been slightly strained, but one which usually sees us rubbing along together OK, will be broken up for ever more.

No I'm not talking about marriage number three.....I keep asking Mrs Mac to tie the knot but she tells me she's got some shopping to do or has to paint her toe nails or something....I'm talking about the rather longer lasting union of the United Kingdom.

Yep, in six days time the Scots go to the polls to decide on the little matter of independence and I have quite firm ideas on this.

I'm definitely and solidly in the No camp.

Why? You might ask.

Well, I've thought long and hard about this but I'm not sure I want to get into a rambling piece about the unity of the working class and how Alex Salmond's plans for unbelievably low corporation tax will benefit large companies but won't ever be passed on to the working man and woman. I think I'd rather consider my affection for a country and a peoples that pretty much dictate where I spend my money, where I go on holiday and what I do while making untold journeys on Virgin Train's wonderful Pendolinos. But I will tell you of my attempt to engage with the debate and put how I attempted to put my opinion on independence to the test.

So I decided the only way to do this would be to come up to this strange land where men wear skirts and women have a hierarchical system based upon the number of their remaining teeth, and get amongst it. I decided that I ought to immerse myself in the debate, in the desire for yes or no, in the singing of Flower of Scotland, in the bagpipes. And in the longer opening hours and relaxed attitude to falling over at the bar. I was also travelling up to see Mrs Mac (who was on a week long course at Stirling University) to get another knock-back when proposing the change of her surname but that's not as poetic and doesn't translate as well into a suggestion that I'm actively involved in the referendum.

Long suffering readers of this blog will know that I'm often in Scotland and it's a place I love. I love it for its scenery, its history, its culture and its quirkiness. I mean, where else in the world can you go for a spot of lunch, order a steak pie and chips (for some reason I'm still yet to discover it's called a 'supper' regardless of the time of day it's consumed) to be asked 'would you like your pie fried or just blasted in the microwave?'

Where else in the world can you go out for dinner, pay the bill with a number of bank notes to be asked 'do you want your change?' Now, I consider myself quite a generous fellow and generally tip waiters and waitresses regardless of the level of customer service but to assume I don't want my change because I'm gonna give it to you anyway is a little rich (excuse the pun). By the way, if you are a waiter/waitress and happen to be reading this, shit customer service will get you a tip. But good customer service and some direction to the higher percentage ABV wines on the list will get you a ridiculously generous tip from someone who doesn't actually earn a great deal.....particularly if Mrs Mac is paying. As she was when this particular incident occurred on Thursday night.

But this is supposed to be a treatise on Scottish independence, not just a few recent observations from eating establishments. So allow me to continue.

So I boarded the train at Euston station for my journey north to engage with the independence debate. For anyone unfamiliar with it, Euston station is a pretty soulless place. It's pretty bland and utilitarian with scant concern for appearing attractive. Travellers tend to stand around on the concourse with their necks craned and heads looking up at the departures board waiting for notification of which platform their train's departing from which acts as a trigger for them to unceremoniously rush to their train in the hope of bagging a table seat.

Once on the train after unceremoniously rushing for it in the hope of bagging a table seat...and failing, I sat watching the minutes tick by to get us past midday. You see I have this rule that alcohol consumption should only ever begin after 20:00. Unless I'm on a plane or train in which case there's a generous time reduction to midday.

At precisely 12:00:01 I cracked open the small bottle of cider I had in my rucksack and began celebrating my journey to Scotland and my engagement and involvement in the Scottish independence referendum. The plan was to pay the extortionate sum of £8.00 for access to the onboard WiFi and research all there was into independence arriving in Glasgow an informed and enlightened man. I also planned to make use of the facilities in the bog to wash, shave and clean my teeth as none of those things had yet taken place due to an overly relaxed approach to journey preparation.

Probably unsurprisingly my plan gradually dissolved as the celebrations gathered apace and the onboard bar got a hammering. My iPad was used for listening to music and looking at Facebook rather than my important research into the potential fracturing of the United Kingdom and my planned visit to the loo to conduct my ablutions was forgotten in a wave of 13.5% red wine.

Having arrived at Glasgow Central I skipped through the streets with my Staffordshire Bull Terrier on his lead and my rucksack on my back toward Queen Street station. At least in my mind's eye I was skipping. To the skirt wearing, partly toothed locals who invariably wore pin badges proclaiming 'YES' or 'NAW' skipped probably translated better as 'lurched ungainly'.

A quick pint in the boozer before boarding the train to Bridge of Allan gave me time to log my iPad onto the free WiFi in an attempt to get a feel for which way Scotland was leaning in the forthcoming referendum. From the online edition of the Daily Record I discovered that Tatiana Williams, a 'voluptuous' transgender woman had spent £60,000.00 to achieve a sixty inch bum and that some Glaswegian police officers so adore a particular sandwich shop that they're willing to transgress parking regulations to get their roll and square sausage.

As I drank my Guinness and marvelled at Tatiana's massive arse I completely missed the opportunity to use the facilities to change my appearance from slightly drunk homeless man to slightly drunk fella that's used a pub toilet to wash and shave.

The second train journey of the day was unlike the first in that there was no onboard bar and therefore no celebrations. Neither was there any WiFi so my iPad once again become a tool for music appreciation rather than a portal into the raging debate over Scottish independence.

On arrival at Bridge of Allan I phoned Mrs Mac who informed me that I was to wait at the station where she would pick me up in 20 minutes. Great, I thought....time to wash and shave. So I dragged my washing bag from my rucksack, placed my iPad on a bin and used its front facing camera as a mirror to shave and wash my face with a few Wet Wipes.

After transforming myself from an unshaven, unclean, wine stained hobo to man on a mission to engage in the independence debate Mrs Mac arrives in her car and I throw my washing bag into my rucksack and we're off to a campsite which would be my accommodation for the next few days. The suggestion that she smuggles me and a Staffordshire Bull Terrier into her University dormitory meets with hilarious laughter and the directions to the Witches Craig campsite.

Now if you've ever been camping you'll know that a successful and comfortable experience depends upon the amount of kit you have and the time spent establishing your pitch. 

Tent erection, sleeping station preparation, table setting, cooker building all takes time. Add in a trip to the local chip shop for dinner and a journey round the supermarket for provisions and we're talking four hours.

Witches Craig campsite. Not a bad spot.

Back at the campsite Mrs Mac and I are chilling out in the warm, early evening air before her planned departure back to Stirling University. A perfect opportunity to log on to the campsite WiFi and start this research into the independence debate thinks Yours Truly.

I reach into my rucksack to retrieve my iPad. I find my washing bag and pull that out. I fish around inside feeling socks, shirts, the odd running shoe.....but no iPad. An alarm bell rings in my head. I turn my rucksack upside down and spill its contents onto the ground. No iPad. Mrs Mac looks at me and I look at her.

'Fuck,' I say. 'I left my iPad at the fuckin' train station.'

'You idiot,' replies Mrs Mac. 'C'mon, let's go and report it as being lost at the Police Station.'

'What for?' I ask. 'Someone will be at home with a free iPad looking at my internet history and my research into transgendered birds with huge arses.'

'If you want to claim on your insurance you'll at least need a Police reference number,' she says.

Despite my complete lack of confidence in the policing of the ridiculously idiotic misplacing of property and a preference for drowning my sorrows in Buckfast, I climb into Mrs Mac's car and we zoom off to the police station. The fucking things not insured anyway but her ideas usually better mine in most instances. 

En route to the police station we pass Bridge of Allan train station and as we do so my eyes widen and my mouth is agape. 

There, on the bin, four hours after leaving it, sits my iPad.

I retrieve it to a repeated chorus of 'you lucky, lucky bastard' from Mrs Mac.

And that, Dear Reader is my engagement in the independence debate and my arriving at a decision on my preference for self governance:

For leaving a £500 iPad in situ for its dozy, idiotic owner to return to retrieve it, the Scottish people can have anything they want, and they can have it with a cherry in top, without any comment from me.


Waiting for the Bus

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Like many of those that might read this blog post (oh for the days when I recorded 300 hits a day) I was nominated by a number of friends and family to conduct the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

While I applaud the efforts normal people go to in order to raise charitable donations for deserving causes I can't help but think for some it's an opportunity to make a spectacle of themselves then dress it up as an exercise in courage and compassion.

So while being someone who likes to refuse to follow a trend I also explained that to accept a nomination for 'David and his entire fire crew' to use fire brigade equipment to soak ourselves on duty, in fire brigade time and then post it on YouTube or Facebook might result in me and my colleagues tapping the boards in a smart outfit to collect our P45s.

And that close involvement of my employer in any comment made regarding activities done in their name is one of the reasons why this blog became somewhat redundant (the fact that it was always supposed to be about running and I've run as many steps as Vanessa Feltz and Alex Salmond put together...a comment about Scottish independence on its way...is of course another).

But here I am, dipping my toe into the water of workplace story telling, because having conducted a robust risk assessment, believe I can get away with this, here goes:

So there we were, 04:55hrs on a random night duty at Battersea Fire Station. Now you have to be aware that due to the dynamic nature of our job we're allowed to 'rest' during the night time in order top be physically and mentally prepared to deal with any given situation. So it's fair to say we were 'resting.'

Rest is disturbed by the trumpeting of the alarm indicating that someone, somewhere is in trouble.

I jump up from my resting platform (you might no this by it's more common name of a bed), chuck on my trousers and shoes and make my way down three flights of stairs to the fire engine. There is a traditional pole to transport the user from the upper floors to ground in a matter of seconds but I find the stair descent provides time to engage ones brain and consider the information regarding the incident that's sent to my pager.

We're on the fire engine and out the doors in a flash of light and sound, barrelling through the streets of SW11 en route to a fire alarm in an old folks' home. The guys in the back of the fire engine are preparing breathing apparatus, the driver is negotiating his way through the virtually empty roads and I'm considering the various scenario permutations that we might encounter.

We arrive at the address to discover an old folks' home in darkness and silence with no apparent distressing occurrence unfolding. Of course that doesn't mean it isn't so a full on approach is adopted ie crashing through the security door armed with breathing apparatus, breaking in gear and mean intentions.

Once inside we stand there, wide-eyed, dressed in the latest personal protective equipment, armed with enough gear to extinguish the fires of hell to be met by a silent alarm panel and a little old lady sitting on a chair. She's dressed in an overcoat, carrying an umbrella and has a rolled up shopping bag in her hand.

'Who are you?' she asks. 'Have you brought the mobility shopping bus?'

'No, my love,' I reply. 'We're from the London Fire Brigade and we're here to respond to a fire.'

'There's no fire here,' I'm told'. 'I'm waiting for my bus. I've got some shopping to do.'

Once I've ascertained the old burd is right, there is no fire, I stand my guys down and continue our discussion.

'So this mobility shopping bus....it's picking you up here, at this time?' I ask.

'Yes,' the old girl replies. 'I've been waiting an hour.'

'What time is it due to arrive, love?' I ask.

'Ten, ten,' she replies.

'Ten past ten!' I exclaim. 'But it's only ten past five! You've got another five hours to wait!'

'Really?' the old burd asks.

'Really' I reply.

'Well fuck that, I'm going back to bed.' she says, and shuffles off down the corridor.

And this event demonstrates the joy of human interaction that my job provides.

We get back on the fire engine a little bit disappointed there was no opportunity to throw loads of wet stuff at hot stuff, a little bit glad that the lack of hot stuff means an absence of sorrow, but laughing our socks off at the Anglo Saxon comment demonstrated by the old burd before hot footing it back to her bed.

One day all of these stories will appear in a book. It'll make me rich and famous and I'll but you all a drink. But only if you comment below :-)