Thursday, 14 February 2013

Minimum Fun At Minimum Wage (Part 1):

Minimum wage; it's not a payroll for the haughty is it? You kinda sag inside like a burst sofa just contemplating it.  When I tell people that I'm earning that salary, it feels like admitting to an erectile dysfunction. It's like:

"Hey Callum, not seen you in while man! What you been up to?"

"Ah, you know, Uni. I'm working."

"Cool, how much do you earn?"

"Uh, minimum wage."


"Yeah. Minimum wage. The least amount of money I could legally be paid. I couldn't earn less if I tried. Yup. I mean, my boss would like to pay me less, by Christ he would, but there are laws stopping him. Otherwise I'd have the same salary as Bob Cratchitt. Sooooo all those years of education I've been through, are apparently completely wasted on me, because I'm now employed to perform a task that could be better accomplished by a ring-tailed macaque for a weekly paycheck that buys me a Pot Noodle in this economy. Until I have to pay tax. Top-banana."

(Would you like some self-respect with that?)
But there's minimum-wage and then there's minimum-wage. Some jobs are thankless and dull, but endurable despite it all. You expect nothing good from them, and you're never disappointed. You develop a camaraderie with your co-workers over how shit things are. You learn how to skive-off and forecast your managers moods. Eventually, with practice, it becomes just another round in the game of life.

Then there's the other kind; the kind of job that leaves you with PTSD after your first shift, the kind of job that reduces you to a gaunt, hollow-cheeked husk after a week. The kind of job that kills you, buries you in a shallow grave by a roadside dyke, then after sixty-hundred-and-sixty-six months uses the arcane arts of necromancy to reanimate you and put you back on the payroll.

(Working hard or hardly wor-ARRGHGHGHCKH!)
This was the type of job I got myself fired from. I'm still pretty steamed about it. You can't tell, can you?

In the June of '12, my dearest mother gave me a phone call to announce, with audible pride, that she'd secured my summer employment. She'd been drinking with people at the local highland games, exchanging news and gossip, and had managed to convince a friend's husband to give me a job in his biscuit factory. Interested was I. Naive was I. Unbroken was I.

You know, I was actually pretty stoked for it. I'd been unemployed over the last summer and it had not sat well with me. Plus the prospect of filling out applications and printing CV's and sending e-mails and the endless, endless rejection was too arduous to even consider. It was a job right? Money in my pocket: I didn't give a soggy shite how I got my hands on it, just as long as the labour was mindless, the pay regular and I could piss-off home before 5pm. It was a biscuit factory man, how hard could it be? I wasn't being sent down a mine-shaft, I'd be boxing oatcakes, Easy cash, right?

(The horror! OH THE HUMANITY!)
Wrong. In fact, I couldn't have been more wrong, not even if I had a PHD in cocking-up from the University of Gimboid.

For a start, I was informed that my shifts lasted from 6am to 3pm, every weekday. Since the factory was in Niddrie and I live in Bathgate, this meant that every morning started with a 40 minute drive. To get to work on time I had to climb out of my bed at 5am. Dear readers, 5am is not something that regularly happens to me. I have never been, of my own free will, fully conscious at this hour. I never had any desire to experience 5am. 5am is a phenomenon for those of us who have never had the good fortune to have heard of half twelve.
(Not pictured: me awake at this ungodly hour)
There's our first mark on the tally of shittiness: 5am start. So I was a bit miffed about the hours, but so what? I'm the employee here, I thought, I can't presume to dictate my shift pattern; that's arrogance. Let's actually work a day before we start with the whining, aw'right?

So Monday morning I pitched up at the gates, 5.55 sharp, signed all the appropriate forms and donned my work clothes. When dealing with food; I don't have to tell you guys how important sanitation and hygiene was to the business ... but fuck it, I'll tell you anyway. All employees had to adhere to a strict dress-code. We were required to wear a hairnet at all times for a start, and that was fucking humiliating. And I didn't get a baseball cap hiding it like the kids in Subway. Nah, I was constantly aware of how much of a twat I looked; and I looked like a monumental twat. I could actually feel my stifling twatishness and it was suffocating. I felt like a sideshow attraction.  

(And I looked like this. Seriously)
Then there were these rubber soles that we had to pull over our boot-heels, for some tenebrous reason which continues to escape me to this day. The piercing squeak they made when rubbed against linoleum was excruciating, and it soon came to be the bane of my senses. My skin would crawl and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in anticipation of it, it was so horrible. They were of the one-size-doesn't-quite-fit-anybody variety, and a bitch to pull on. Even harder to take off, come to think of it: I once went home with them still attached because anything shy of a crowbar would not have budged 'em.

(The engineer's shoehorn)
We also had to wear these disposable labcoats, which seemed to be made out of wood-pulp and tissue paper as far as I could discern. They could be torn by a butterfly's eyelash and they practically dissolved in water. You had to strip everything off and throw it in the bin every single time you left the factory floor. Every time you had a break, took out the bins, went to the toilet, masturbated, murdered a co-worker, whatever, you had to strip off, bin your clothes, and put on new stuff. It doesn't sound so bad does it? But believe me, after you've done this approximately eight times a day, it starts to wear you down.

So, properly attired, I was ready (not really) to commence my imminent carousel-ride through all seven circles of Hell. The next fortnight was as traumatic as watching your girlfriend have an affair with your Alsatian.  

(Adultery's a sin Rover)
Can I say before I begin my account; this job was not in any way complicated. I had few responsibilities, and it wasn't like any mistakes I made lost the business thousands, or put other careers in jeopardy. Yet I still managed to get myself fired without pouring anthrax into the vats or committing embezzlement. It took a staggering degree of stupidity, but I managed it.

So I was a factory worker; not a position I was proud of by any stretch of the imagination, but I was also a new guy with no previous experience, which put me roughly just below yeast in the factory food-chain. I was everybody's bitch, and for good reason: I never had a clue what I was doing. Usually I had a lot of janitorial work to do, because by and large it was the one type of work that I could do without ruining everything. This meant a lot of sweeping, which was good, because usually when you're sweeping people leave you alone. It's such a dull, pointless lowbrow task that supervisors usually pay it no heed. Often, they wouldn't notice that I'd been meticulously sweeping the same four feet for twenty minutes, which left me free to daydream. If any of you guys suffer the misfortune to become janitors, I've got one piece of advice for you: learn to mop in your sleep. It will make your life immeasurably easier.

(These are life skills I'm teaching you guys)
But that was the nicey-nicey stuff. I also had to wheel this wire-frame trolley about the place, just in this perpetual circuit, picking up litter and dragging it out to the recycling dumpster outside. Well I say dumpster, really it was this huge steel shipping container that was stacked fit to burst with cardboard and paper and zip-tags. 

I also had the ignomious job of collecting the waste biscuits in these large cylindrical plastic bins, and dumping them in an entirely separate shipping container. This was by far the most repugnant of my various duties, and the one I loathed the most. For a start, those bins were heavy. You might not think that oatcakes are the weightiest of foodstuffs, but once those bins were full they became as dense as a collapsing star. Also, I had this job before I started taking regular exercise and weight-training seriously, so my soft wee noodle arms would struggle to lift even one more than ten feet without my having an asthma attack. The only choice you had if you wanted to avoid picking up fifty metric tonnes was to jog around the factory floor, taking out the bins before they got too full. Anything filled more than halfway was exhausting to shift, so you had to be quick, but often the effort of keeping up with the pace of the machinery was more knackering than just heaving the bloody things out when they were full.

(Don't look at me like that, lifting things is hard)
 The recycled biscuits were to be shipped off to feed swine, which meant they needed to at least be edible. That meant that on more than one occasion, I had to climb into this dank, rusted shipping container to clear out the rodents that were nesting in the waste product. I'd have to wade through sodden, moldy biscuits, stabbing mice out of the oaten heaps with the end of my broom, wincing as they scurried past my shins in their droves. I was like the pied piper if he'd fallen on hard times in the recession. I mean, have any of you ever had to endure the rank stench of mountains of soggy biscuits mouldering away in the darkness? In a cramped, confined space, juxtaposed with the biting odor of rat droppings? That experience will change you. After a while, the smell just settles into your lungs and stays there for good. I started to sweat biscuit and cough up crumbs. It bleached my eyebrows white. The smell of hyacinths, a lovers perfume, cinnamon, coffee, cloves, garlic, mint and rosemary; these scents are all lost to me now. The factory was overall extremely clean, and we had the vermin situation under control, but I personally had a plague to deal with. I felt positively bubonic by the end of each shift. That shipping container became my Room 101.   
(How do those rat turds taste Babe?)
But the fun didn't stop there folks! We're only on the tip of this horse-manure iceberg, and things only got progressively worse ... 


(This week I've been reading the famous satirical mock-epic 'The Rape of the Lock' by Alexander Pope, which is; shock and horror, actually pretty funny. Imagine that! People in ye olden days had senses of humor! In all seriousness if you haven't read it yourself, then give it a look, particularly if your a classics student with a firm knowledge of 'The Iliad' or 'The Aeneid' - I'm looking at you Rachel - although I still haven't read either myself ... Whoops. There goes my carefully cultivated facade of literacy ...)

(Alexander Pope: A Pretty Cool Guy)

Monday, 11 February 2013

Fears Before Bedtime:

Looking back, I think the thing that colored the texture of my childhood most prominently was fear. Not the big grandiose phobias of adulthood, like death, disease, poverty and aging, but a stinging cloud of tiny irrational worries that needled me long into adolescence. The funny thing was that almost all of these anxieties were self-inflicted, the enfants terrible of overactive imagination, born of ignorance, confusion and speculation. 

To understand what I’m talking about, you have to appreciate that the world a child perceives and occupies is utterly different to the grown-up universe. Parents dictate bizarre social conventions that you suspect are simply made up on the spot. You can eat certain foods with your hands but not others. Mum insists that you tidy your toys away, even though this means that you’ll no longer remember where they are. Certain people are fat or short or ugly, and yet you’re forbidden from discussing these facts within earshot of them. It’s not polite to pick your nose and flick bogies away, but it is polite to blow all the snot onto a piece of tissue-paper, fold it and put it in your pocket. You can’t ever talk to strangers, yet by the same token your parents admonish you for not making friends when all the possible candidates for companionship happen to be strangers. You have to go to bed early even though mummy stays up late. You can’t whisper a swearword even though daddy shouts them when he watches football. It goes on and on and on.

Not only this, but simple physical laws do not exist in childhood. There’s no such thing as physics or chemistry when you’re five-years-old. There’s no such thing as God either. Think about that for a second. Everything, from the dishwasher to the lightbulb, is an incomprehensible miracle. This is why kids make the best scientists; they systematically question everything around them, right down to the most minute detail. Contentment with ignorance is a form of learned helplessness that only adults suffer. Children are never satisfied, and their inquiries are constant:

“Why does the sun come out in the day instead of at nighttime when the light would be more useful?”

“How do I know air exists when I can’t see it? What if breathing is just a bad habit I can quit anytime I want?”

“What’s the difference between dead people and asleep people? What if dead people have just been asleep a really long time and when they wake up we’ll have locked them in boxes and buried them in the ground?”

“For that matter, what happens when we run out of space in the ground to bury dead people in? Will we have to fire them into outer space or what?”

“What’s to stop liquid from not assuming the shape of its container. It can be any shape it wants, why should the container decide for it?”

“How can trees be alive when they don’t move, eat or go to the toilet?”

“How can the earth be spinning around the sun without me ever getting dizzy?”

“How can the earth be smaller than the sun when the sun in the sky looks like it’s the same size as a penny?”
“Why did it take people in the olden days so long to invent cars and computers?”

“If dragons and fairies don’t exist, why does everyone know what they look like?”

“How can girls be the same animal as boys when they have longer hair and different private parts?

Seems ridiculous right? Well ... yeah, maybe it is. But I asked questions like this every hour of every day, and now it seems insane to imagine a time in my life without the answers. So I filled in the gaps in my knowledge by scaring myself to death. For me the world was a huge and horrifying place that might contain any number of grim and haunting phenomena. I invented nightmarish scenarios to occupy my imagination. A few examples of the kind of lunacy I'm talking about:

-I had this fantasy where gravity would just stop working one day for no reason, and we would all float off into the blue, falling away from the earth forever and ever and ever like untethered balloons.

-I used to worry that my friends and family were impostors that only pretended to care about me. I had this idea that if I were to leaf through my parents bank statements or tax forms, I’d find evidence that they were spies or androids or something,  sizing me up for experimentation or torture.

-I was seriously unnerved by the idea that God could see everything I was doing, because it meant that not one moment of my life would ever be unobserved: sometimes when I was on the toilet I would put a bath-towel over my head just so I could void my bowels in peace.  

-I worried that other people couldn’t see the same colors as I could, or even the same shapes. After all, we only have our own senses to rely on right? How did I know that my idea of what an apple or a pencil is the same as other peoples? What if the universe was so terrible and alien, that we’d all, since the dawn of history, invented our own individual worlds in the privacy of our own skulls and pretended that we agreed on what it looked and smelled and sounded like?

-Sometimes in the restless predawn witching hours, when I was lying in bed, a car would rush past my bedroom window, throwing a slim pendulum of light across my ceiling from its headlamps. The whisper of tyres on the road always made a sound like an angel breathing my name in my ear. Whenever this happened I’d curl into a ball and bury my face into my pillows, whining like a dog for the sake of invisible monsters.

-I was paranoid that when I turned off my television, the characters on the screen would die instantly. To me, every time you changed the channel you caused a miniature apocalypse. If you switched off after an episode was over, you averted the catastrophe for the time being, but any other time made you a murderer.

-If I had to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, I’d always throw a toy or a pillow on the floor first, so the anomalous grotesque creatures that lived under the bed would get to that first.

-I regarded the film ‘Toy Story’, as a documentary, and as such was terrified that if I broke any of my own sentient plastic friends, I’d leave them irreparably deformed and crippled, trapped in agony and unable to die.

-I hated the sound of static, the dial tone on the end of telephones, the screech of glitching computer programs or the groaning of faulty VHS tapes. I always imagined that these were the sounds of machines screaming in pain.

-I was horrified to learn that everyone had organs inside them, long ropey entrails, slimy guts, whatever, because it meant that even the most beautiful people had disgusting stuff inside wound up inside them, all secret and repulsive underneath the skin. I became depressed after studying the digestive system because it meant that I couldn’t love every part of the girls I fancied.

-I was afraid of dark places, shadows and eclipses. I hated the sight of dead jellyfish, the spastic flutterings of daddy longlegs.

-I was scared of falling into a parallel dimension, like wonderland or Bizarro world.

-I didn’t like cracked windows, eyeballs, and human skin.

As I’ve grown I’ve shed these petty phobias, yet I don’t think this means I’m free of anxiety. On the contrary I think I’m simply better at hiding my own madness. The irrational horrors have been buried within the psyche or simply forgotten, while others matured and gestated, to become the many anxieties I live with today. As a grown-man I’m afraid of non-existence, of pain and depression and despair. I’m afraid of my friends leaving me or losing interest in my or betraying me. I’m afraid of not being funny or interesting or attractive enough for other people. I’m afraid of wasting my life or squandering opportunities. I’m afraid of my family and friends dying, or becoming sick or insane or disabled. I’m afraid of disappointing people, I’m afraid of failure, I’m afraid of rejection. I’m afraid I’m ugly, boring, pretentious and lazy. I’m afraid of loneliness, of being single for the rest of my life, of never becoming a great writer, of being poor or unfulfilled or unhappy. I’m afraid I might never get over my ex girlfriend, and find the strength to accept the way she ended things without it tarnishing the good memories. I’m afraid I might be so afraid of losing my next job that I’ll never get another one. I’m afraid of losing reasons to continue living, of the inherent selfishness, cruelty and malice of nature, of the indifference of the world to me and the meaninglessness of reality.

In fact, I have so many fears these days that it’s just impossible for me to find the time to be scared of all the other stuff, clowns and spiders and sharks and whatnot. I’m glad I’m not carrying the nightmares of childhood around with me anymore, and I’m proud to have replaced them with an adult’s. I don’t think the world ever stops being huge and frightening and inexplicable, I think we simply adapt ourselves to be afraid of what’s relevant, and reject what is not. There’s still a lot keeping me awake at night, staring into the darkness within and without, but at least those horrors can be shared. At least we don’t carry them alone.

What were you guys afraid of as kids? Did anything weird creep you out, and if so, have you outgrown that fear or is it still with you? As always, feel free to tell me about it, as I'm always interested in this kind of personal stuff. 

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Performance Time!

Since you guys seemed to respond to my last little video so well, (apart from my incessant chatter: sorry about that - I get nervous while being filmed and tend to babble a lot of the time :/ ) I thought I'd make another to let you guys spy on me practicing another piece for next week. It'll be like 'VIOLIN LIVE!' or reality T.V. or whatever. Hopefully your disgusting voyeurism will mean you'll overlook any mistakes I might make. (Perish the thought!)

As these videos go on there may be even more distractions. I might perform shirtless in a hailstorm while a vicious horde of demented chimps parade in the background with party poppers and confetti. Anything to please my dearest audience :)

As always your comments are noted and very much appreciated. Why don't you let me know what you thought of it? Do you think I've improved at all? :)