Brian Epstein

Brian Epstein
Brian who? Few people below a certain age who find themselves buying a Beatles CD or listening to a Beatles song on the radio will have any idea about Brian Epstein. The man who discovered the Beatles. Mr Twenty-five percent. The Beatles manager between 1961 and 1967. Brian was instrumental in defining an era that he never left. As well as the Fab Four, Brian managed Cilla Black. He looked after the interests of Gerry and the Pacemakers. He guided the careers of Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. In 1963 Brian’s acts spent 37 weeks at number one. Brian raked in £5,000,000 in 1964
[1]. Mr Brian Epstein. The fifth most famous man on earth through from ’64 to ‘66. Brian presented the Beatles to the world. From the first meeting to the first hit single – ten months. Ten months of graft. Ten months of disappointment. Ten months of rejection. Of hard sell and hawking the boys around London. And then the long train journey back north, devising new schemes to keep the dream alive. Met at Lime Street by John and Paul. Brian finding a way to break the news. Ten months of not letting on to the boys just how grim the responses had been. No one wanted to know about the Beatles. Guitar bands were old hat. Brian persevered. Brian didn’t give in. He boxed them up and gift wrapped them. Neat and tidy. Zeitgeist. Ready to go. But no one would remember Brian. Time would roll by and the fame would melt. Brian would diminish. Brian would fade out. Slowly getting quieter until he made no sound at all. The moments of triumph would die with him. He would become an anonymous face in black and white photographs surrounded by the eternally recognizable. The public awareness of Brian will evaporate. John, Paul, George and Ringo will remain. They’ll get all the credit. They’ll stand alone. They will abide. Brian will be forgotten in his Liverpool graveyard. The only one who will ever go back home.

Forty-two years ago this August Bank Holiday weekend Brian Epstein was reported dead in his house at 24 Chapel Street, London. He was thirty-two years old.

Brian’s was a background of comfortable affluence. His life, for all appearances, was safe. His parents successful in that moderate, local way that will make most smug and self-satisfied and serves to sap all ambition. But Brian was a troubled soul. At his public school Brian is lazy. Brian doesn’t concentrate. Brian dreams of becoming a dress designer. Brian spends his maths lesson thinking about the bias cut. He designs theatre programmes for mythical productions. He thinks about Norman Hartnell. He thinks about Cecil Beaton. The marvellous designs. The wonderful creations. The stage. The West End. The glamour of Hollywood. He spends his time looking out of the window and seeing fashion parades. Fuchsia pink married to bright powder blue. Soft peach and mint green. Perfect for this season at Royal Ascot. He imagines himself famous in a discrete, exclusive way. You’re so clever, Mr Epstein. His own studio in the West End. A beautiful boutique. His own label. Princess Margaret calls him up direct. A new hat? A new dress? Some evening wear for a soiree on Mustique? The Ambassador’s ball? Yes, ma’am, no ma’am, three bags full, ma’am. Brian gets kicked out of school. Reports about his lack of work. His laziness. His day-dreaming. His softness. The schools are anti-Semitic. The schools hate Jews. The schools hate Brian Samuel Epstein, Jew. Brian grows up racked with guilt and confusion over his sexuality. Brian is queer. A pansy. Brian is an outsider. He can’t be himself. He can’t join the club. He’s driven by a sense that he wants to achieve something with his life yet seems constantly stalled by one problem or another. He has a buzz for the stage. Perhaps there he’ll find some outlet. Somewhere to fit in. He joins RADA. He stays a few months. He leaves RADA. Brian was a complicated individual. Brian doing his National Service. Heading to London. Miserable. Trapped. Escaping into a world of his own imagination. Caught by the Red Caps in some West End bar, impersonating a major in the Guards regiment. Awkward questions. Brian stuttering replies. Brian getting flustered. Brian’s been trawling for men. Meeting men in public toilets. Young boys. Seedy. Needy. Gay. Brian gets picked up by the police. A sting operation. Brian sees a boy. The telltale signals. Brian is tempted. Brian hesitates. Brian leaves and then returns. He plucks up the courage. Why not? He follows the undercover copper into the public lavs. He gets lifted. He gets taken to the police station. He gets cautioned for importuning. You don’t tell that story in your little book, do you, Eppy? A cellerful of boys. And you don’t tell them about getting discharged from Her Majesty’s armed forces because of your unnatural appetites. You gloss over that one, don’t you, Brian? Epstein returns to Liverpool and is gifted a job managing his parents’ furniture shop. He accepts his fate. To be comfortable and affluent and bored. He knuckles down. He wears nice clothes and goes to the theatre. He works hard. Plays hard? Who knows? Epstein’s Mr. Brian. Always punctual. Always diligent. But Brian refused to accept the safety. Something in him won’t rest. He needed a gamble. He wanted to take risks. He branches out and starts selling records. He pledges to get any record in the world through his shop in Liverpool, Lancashire. Brian is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He trawled the pubs for rough trade. He kept an eye out for vicious rent boys. He wants a slice. He needs a taste. He has to have a piece. The other Brian at the Walker Gallery, in raptures over some canvas daub. The other Brian keeping office hours in his clean, white shirt. Epstein’s Mr. Brian sitting down to the day’s work with the angry welts underneath his clean, white shirt.

And then Brian stumbled into the Beatles. The legend is that he fell in love with John Lennon. Brian spellbound in the clammy, sweaty atmosphere of the Cavern Club below Matthew Street in Liverpool. Condensation dripping off the painted walls. Smoke collecting in the low, curved ceiling. The air thick and degraded. Brian mesmerized by Mendips’ Master John on the badly lit stage. Mendips’ Master John playing the part of the hard man as he crunches out ‘That’ll be the day’ to the Caver
n faithful one grey northern afternoon. Everything still in black and white. Mendips’ Master John laughing at cripples and spastics. Mendips’ Master John stumbling forward without a thought for the future. Mendips’ Master John and the rest of the boys laughing at queers. It’s possible. Brian was attracted to men who didn’t appreciate him. Brian was drawn to men who responded to his affection with cruelty and unkindness. Brian liked a bit of rough. Brian went for the tough boy look. Brian took beatings because of his love of the tough boy look. Brian got the shit kicked out of him because of his love of the tough boy look. Brian got cut up with a broken milk bottle because of his love of the tough boy look. The Beatles played the tough boy part well back in 1961. Leather jackets and Teddy Boy haircuts. Cigarettes and cheap amphetamines. Flirting with the girls from the stage. Stopping mid song to cadge cigarettes from the front row. To exchange funnies. To swear. To take requests. To pull John’s spaz faces. For George to munch on an egg sandwich. For Paul to set up a date with a girl who worked the make-up counter at Boots. Brian saw something. Brian saw an opportunity. Brian turned his artistic eye on the Beatles. He applied his RADA training. He schooled them in stage craft. He directed them in manners. He prompted them in deportment. He implemented the synchronized stage bow. Deep and low, bend from the hips. He demanded professionalism. He showed them what they could achieve. He took on the gamble. To make them bigger than Elvis. He groomed them for fame. He made them his project. He found someone he could belong to. A world where he could fit in. Without Brian we would never have heard of the Beatles. Brian picked them out of apathy and carried them to become the biggest musical phenomena ever. He gave them the scope to create the cultural landscape beyond their own achievements. What were their plans if Brian hadn’t turned up? Where were they heading? A ten year residence at the Bootle Working Mens’ Club; sandwiched between the bingo and the blue comedian, knocking out old rock n’ roll covers. Still in the Hamburg leather jackets and the Teddy Boy haircuts. Doing Elvis tracks in working mens’ clubs across Merseyside. In Blackpool. In Bolton. In Preston. In Manchester. In Leeds. In Halifax. In Newcastle. In Sunderland. In Doncaster. In Barnsley. Johnny Silver and his Silver Beetles. Direct from Liverpool. Knocking out the old rock n’ roll hits. ‘C’mon everybody’, ‘Blue suede shoes’, ‘Peggy Sue’. Still with no money in the bank. The future narrowing. Mal’s still driving the van. They split the cash. John starts a fight with the entertainments committee. Old men in brown suits with grey sideburns. No complimentary bar bill. Flat north country vowels. No fucking swearing on stage, this is a fucking family club. And if you drink all that booze you’ll have to bloody pay for it! Paul flirts with the girl behind the bar. That’s my fucking wife, you Scouse bastard. George leans forward to catch what someone is asking. Some old dear in horn-rimmed specs, hair like candy floss, a spent bingo card in front of her, supping gin and lime. You want what, love? Requests for Tommy Steele hits. Half a fucking six pence? Get fucked! And what would we have had without the Beatles? A Cliff and the Shadows 1960s. Good grief. It doesn’t bear thinking about. It is a horrible glimpse at a future that might have been. Hitler in Buckingham Palace. Emperor Hirohito in the White House. Cliff singing ‘Summer holiday’ at Shea Stadium. Imagine…

Brian enjoyed the trappings of his success. He revelled in his fame by proxy. He found confidence in the Beatles apparent invincibility. You were only as good as the next record and the next record was going to be a hit. You didn’t argue with Lennon & McCartney. Eighteen number ones. Twelve hit albums. Each one more original than the last. Each one an evolution. Brian had the plum Bentley – just like the Queen’s. He sits comfortable in the deep leather upholstery and watches London drift past between meetings and interviews. The handmade suits from Savile Row. The new glossy friends. The shiny, exclusive doors opening. The complimentary boys. The glittering parties on his London roof garden. The exclusive clubs where he swapped jokes with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. The showbiz premieres. His friendship with Alma Cogan. His appearances on television and radio. Brian picks two of Paul’s songs for his Desert Island Disks. Keep the royalties coming, Brian. Brian bought himself a house in the country. Kingsley Hill just south of Heathfield in Sussex. He had his own TV show – Hullabaloo. He ate at the best restaurants. He owned his own theatre that hosted concerts by Jimi Hendrix and Cream. He was the subject of two Beatles’ songs, both written by Lennon – ‘Hide your love away’ and ‘Baby, you’re a rich man’. He mixed with all the fabulous people of the decade. But Brian still had his flip side. Mr Hyde still clawed at him from the inside. He still liked the hard boys. He still liked to gamble with huge stakes. Financial and personal. First in Liverpool – where he became the complainant Mr X at a trial at the Crown Court in a case of blackmail – then in London where he could really go wild. Late nights spent in the Curzon House, the high class gambling den. Thousands on the table. His trips to Fascist Spain to drool over bullfighters. Sat rigid in the Cordoba sunshine with a tall glass of something cool to watch some homoerotic ballet where an animal is made to die slowly so that Brian can get a shot off. Brian disappearing on tour. Twenty-four hours AWOL in Cincinnati on the ’64 summer tour. Brian comes back walking stiff. Bruises on his ribs. A pale look to his face. Minus his wallet. Minus his watch. Minus his lighter. Where the bloody hell have you been, Brian? Brian the fifth Beatle. The fat Beatle. Brian with his Windsor knot and his officer’s voice. His manicured nails and classical LPs.

Brian does the dirty work. Brian earns his twenty-five percent gross. The Beatles: John, Paul, George and Pete. Pete the attractive one with all the fans in Liverpool. Pete who got the boys bookings in the early days. Pete with his head in the gas oven as the Fab Four are on TV. Rattle your jewellery. Pete in Liverpool. Pete on Merseyside. Pete looking ‘round for a job. Pete having to pull himself together in the face of the hurricane. Didn’t you used to be in the Beatles? Pete fucked. Pete fucked over. Pete dumped. Pete with his head in the gas oven as they collect their Variety Club golden hearts from Mr Wilson. Brian does the dirty work. Brian earns his twenty-five percent gross. Brian gives Pete the bad news. Erm, Pete, I’m afraid the boys feel that… Pete sticks his head into the gas oven as the boys run through the streets in A Hard Days Night chased by screaming teens. Brian remembers Pete. Brian thinks about Pete. As Brian slips away Pete Best is kneading baps for £12 a week in a Liverpool bakery.

Brian was an industry joke. The subject of spiteful sniping. The object of jealous criticism. Brian was a patsy. Brian was overwhelmed. The Americans carved up Brian’s boys. The Yanks were bleeding them dry. The Americans had a feeding frenzy. The Americans were having their pants down. Brian could sell the boys a thousand times over and the Yanks would still be coming back for more. The figures were off the scale. There was no precedent. Brian didn’t know what he was dealing with. No one did. Not until it’s too late. Not until the signatures were dry. No one was expecting anything on this scale. Brian is willing to take what they’ll give him. Brian doesn’t understand that they’re willing to give a shed load more. A lot more. A massive amount more. Millions more. Brian nods. Brian is personable and reasonable. Brian doesn’t see the need to be ruthless. Brian doesn’t think it’s necessary. Brian thinks he’s got a good deal. They’ve given everything he asked for. Brian asked for nothing. Relatively. Brian feels pleased. Brian tells the boys not to worry. Brian says they’ve got it sewn up. Brian throws some cash around. The money seems limitless. The earnings are amazing. The floodgates have finally opened. More than they dreamed. Brian sees the crowds and his heart sinks. Brian does a rough head count. Brian adds it all up. Brian does his sums. Brian calculates. Brian multiplies. Brian converts. Dollars. Pounds Sterling. Brian quietly panics. Brian sees the cash bleeding away. Brian sees a fortune fall into someone else’s hands. Someone who knows nothing about his boys. Who cares nothing about his boys. Someone who’s done nothing to bring his boys this far. Brian nods coldly to ‘I want to hold your hand’ from the side of the stage. Jelly Babies reigning down. The white noise of teenage mania. Brian gets a whiff of ammonia coming from the piss-sodden front rows. Brian’s felt his arse drop. Brian keeps doing the figures. Brian folds his arms. He taps his polished shoe to Ringo’s pounding beat. To the Beatle noise. Brian smiles rigidly. Brian is aware of the camera flashes. Brian slaps on a smile. He nods encouragement. The smile doesn’t reach his eyes. The nod misses the beat. Brian has fucked up. The man who made the Beatles.

Monday 29th August 1966. The Beatles had played their last official concert. Candlestick Park baseball stadium, San Francisco. They’d only sold just over half of the tickets. The promoter had made a loss. Broad banks of seats empty. 1966 wasn’t 1965. John had opened his big gob and put his foot in it. Corporate America was flexing its muscles and fighting back after the Fab Four nearly destroyed the Billboard Chart. Corporate America dividing the audience with The Monkees. Back home other acts were stealing their thunder. Bands that played harder. That seemed cooler. Dressed differently. The Who. The Small Faces. The Kinks. The Rolling Stones. Candelstick Park was an end. Brian had missed the show. All thirty-five minutes of it. He’d rushed in when it was all over. Sweat beading under his perfect shirt collar. Damp gathering in the creases of his beautiful suit. Too late. He’d missed the boys last appearance. After John had hinted at the future with the opening chords of ‘A Day in the Life’ and they walked off the stage forever. Brian had been in time to see big Mal and Neil putting away the kit. Where the bloody hell have you been, Brian? Brian had experienced some trouble. A bit of a hitch. Nothing to concern the boys. Nothing to worry them about. An ex-boyfriend had half-inched his attaché case. Compromising papers mixed up with the Beatles business correspondence. Some dodgy top-shelf muscle magazines. Some dubious prescription drugs. A couple of joints. A bag of grass. Some nasty photographs. A dirty boy on boy skin film. The police were brought in. There’d been more trouble. Brian balked at pressing charges. He didn’t want to criminalize the boy. He thanked the police kindly for their efforts to recover his property. No, no need to check, he was sure that it was all there. Brian made a contribution to the police benevolent fund. Brian shook hands. He arranged Beatles’ autographs. Brian became urbane. He played it down. Brian was compromised. Brian was scared. Brian played it polite and retreated gracefully. Brian’s personal life was a mess.

Monday 29th August 1966 had marked the end of an era. A period of usefulness was now over. Brian had no more concerts to organize. No more tours. No more itineraries to arrange. No more TV appearances to sort out. The boys were growing up. The boys were coming to their own conclusions. The boys are making their own decisions. Brian feels slightly wrong-footed. Brian’s not sure about the wisdom in putting out the Sgt. Pepper cover. Brian’s worried about the new hairstyles. Brian’s making the best of the drug disclosures. Brian’s loyalty for the boys never wavers. The boys spend more time in the studio. Brian rarely visits the studio. He’s rarely been there since he was word slapped by John when he appeared in the control room. You here to count your percentages, Brian? Brian starts to see less and less of the boys. A day in the life. All change. What now Brian?

Just under a year later, on Sunday 27th August 1967, and Brian was dead.

Epstein’s death was the first real tolling of the bell for the Beatles. Even Lennon’s Jesus remark and ‘Paperback Writer’ not hitting the top spot in its first week the previous year were incomparable to the affect Epstein’s death would have on them. As Lennon would later say: ‘I knew we were in trouble then. I didn’t really have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music and I was scared. I thought, “We’ve fucking had it now.”’ With Brian gone, in-fighting ripped the band apart. The fractious relationship between Paul and John got out of hand. The rumbling power play between them. Paul with the Eastmans. John and Yoko and Allen Klein. They were slated for their meandering self-indulgence over The Magical Mystery Tour film when it premiered on the BBC over Christmas. Then 1968 took them to new lows. The paranoia began to climb the walls. The mistrust smothered them. John got into Yoko and Bagism. Paul wanted more control. George was tired of taking guitar lessons from Paul. Ringo felt unloved. Drugs addled their brains and the sharks began to circle. It all spiralled out of control. The band went into a tailspin. Less than two years after Brian’s death and the Beatles would make their final album together.

I find it difficult to read any account of Epstein’s death and not see cover up written all over it. Something more happened that weekend. There’s a back story that we haven’t been made privy to. That was kept secret. The most obvious deduction is that in some way his death was linked to his sexuality, and consequently something that wouldn’t look good reported in the press. Did Brian kill himself? There are many that say not. That try to rationalize behaviour. He wouldn’t have done it, his father had recently die
d, he wouldn’t have left his mother…
But that’s with a benefit of hindsight. Behaviour in real time is rarely rational. Even more so in the case of suicide. Brian had been depressed and unhappy for some time. His father’s death, his failed relationships, his worries over a future with the Beatles. His mood made worse by his spiralling drug misuse. By a need to maintain composure. Brian was under incredible pressure. He’d tried the Priory clinic before it became fashionable. Before it became a route to recover your career. Brian had checked in to recover his nerves and kick the bad habits. He’d bought Kingsley Hill to escape from London. Brian was up against it. It was all getting too much. Though I don’t necessarily think that a suicide in itself would have been covered up. There would have to be aggravating circumstances. It seems the only chance of this happening would be dependent on what – if anything – Brian had to say in any note he left behind. Would that note have seen the light of day? None ever did. The house was thoroughly cleaned. The carpets hoovered. The drawers emptied. The cabinets rifled. Everywhere made safe. Did a note exist? Brian had written suicide notes previously. But not this time? What might it have said that some thought should be left unsaid? What might have caused Brian to plunge to the bottom of his own personal well? What might have left Brian unable to take any more? Brian’s despair at his homosexuality? At the venality of his lovers? His fears over the future? His sadness at his father’s death? His life breaking apart? Did Brian die accidentally? As the coroner decided. As the death certificate stated. A relief to all concerned. Accidental overdose. Years of prescription medication abuse coming on top. A build up of toxins. Through his haphazard use of Carbitral. Through his lucky bag crunching of Preludin. Perhaps. But I’m not entirely convinced he died at Chapel Street. Or that the accident was the one we’ve been given to accept. Kingsley Hill slumbering in the fat English countryside. Did the rent boys actually turn up? Did the party down in Sussex go ahead? Did the party down in Sussex go wrong? Did something happen to Brian at the party? Did somebody make a mistake? Did something go wrong? Did someone hurt Brian? Kingsley Hill. Brian’s thrown a fortune at the interior design. Trimmed it up. Every detail thought out, imagined in his head, through his mind’s eye, made real. Brian loved it. Brian had earned it. For the first time in his life, something that he’d gone out and made for himself. No Harry, no Queenie, no Hebrew Mafia. Brian Epstein, the man who made the Beatles. Brian’s down for the warm and sunny Bank Holiday while the boys are in Wales with Sexy Sadie. Brian will have the long weekend at Kingsley Hill and join them later. Brian in his queer arcadia. The green rolling hills. The fat trees. The blue skies. The thrills. Prescription drugs, marijuana and a punnet of rent boys. The climax of the greatest British summer of the greatest British decade of all time. Our apotheosis. The Garden of Eden to which we would all forever try to return.

What happened, Brian?

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[1]If the Great Train Robbers’ haul of £2.6 million is estimated at £38 million in today’s money, then in one year Epstein earned the equivalent of roughly £75,000,000.

For more on Brian Epstein click here to watch a 1999 documentary.

The water in Majorca…

Friday 17th July 2009. Berwick was damp, grey and drizzly when we got there just after eleven in the morning. The M1 had been a nightmare. Visibility barely reaching beyond the windscreen at times. Miles and miles of the wet North Country disappearing in a silver haze. We’d stopped off at Holy Island and stared at the low marshy hillock from the wrong side of the tide. A pale slate sky and a bright green line on the horizon struggling to raise itself up from the dark water. We knew the crossing wouldn’t be possible at that time after checking the internet the night before but felt we had to make the detour and gawp into historical space as it was so close. We gazed for a minute or so, soaked in the atmosphere of illuminated manuscripts and Viking raiders, then I did a quick three-pointer in the rising water and we headed back to the main road. I felt much better for it, somehow.

 

Berwick’s reached from the South by a non-descript roundabout off the A1*. Past a tree-lined industrial estate, under the solid Victorian certainty of Brunel’s rail bridge and through a canyon of strangely incongruous rows of utilitarian terraced houses raised up from the road. Another inconsequential, suburban mini-roundabout and you’re on the long road bridge over the cosy, twisty-sounding Tweed that takes you into the fortified town, with the rail bridge reappearing on your left shoulder and the awe inspiring cold, brooding mass of the North Sea on your right.

 

We parked the car near the harbour with its thick defensive walls. The rain started coming down heavily again. Lashing the brown stone walls and the blue slate roofs and running in the gutters. We speed-walked up to the town centre and into the café under the town croft. The Doolally. Hot Chocolate in a big mug. Some calories and a break from the driving on my 690 mile round trip.

 

Sat in the café contemplating a big slab of soggy chocolate cake, it was then that I’d been surprised to hear the Scot’s accents. They’d snuck up on me like the Highland charge at Prestonpans. Shock and awe. Everyone spoke with a Caledonian twang. The tidy waitress in her white blouse and black pants, the old people gathering for a chat, the bickering teens who’d congregated to discuss spots and cider. Och aye, the noo! We’re still in England, surely? Fair enough, only two and a half miles inside England, but in England nonetheless. Despite what some members of the Scottish National Party might want or suggest. Despite the town looking like a cover from The Peoples’ Friend. Berwick is in England. Just. Yet here was everyone talking like they’ve got a gob full of Shortbread and Irn-bru and would be going home that night to play Rod Stewart’s back catalogue on the bagpipes and tuck into a tea of haggis and deep fried Mars bar followed by a dozen cans of Special Brew. And a fight. I didn’t hear anyone that sounded even vaguely English. There was not even the ubiquitous posh bloke speaking beige Received Pronunciation with his rolled up copy of The Guardian under one arm. Berwick-on-Tweed has been fought over for centuries; as the pages of The Dandy will testify. And here I was living inside ‘The Jocks and the Geordies’ comic strip. Except there didn’t seem to be any Geordies. It struck me oddly. How far back South into Northumbria would I have to travel before the local accent became recognizably English again? I considered running an experiment. Jumping back into the car, pulling off the A1 into some bypassed village, storming into a pub and demanding the locals describe what they see when I show them a photograph of Janette Tough dressed as Jimmy Crankie. Och, that’s the wee laddie, oor Jimmy! Fandabidozy! Two miles South – It’s that bloody Scots dwarf that dresses up like a school boy for her husband. Fucking weirdos! Method, results, conclusion.

 

Looked at more widely, where is the demarcation line for accents drawn? Are there invisible borders pegged into the landscape? Are indigenous accents the products of geography and microclimates? Is it all about the adenoids and the damps – or otherwise – affect on the vocal chords? I supped hot chocolate and considered. I resisted cake and thought about it. When do the flat, blunt vowels of Yorkshire turn into the fruity half-witted burr of Lancashire? Where does the English accent of the satellite villages of Marches towns like Shrewsbury and Ludlow acquire the singsong vocal traits of Wales? And how does an accent affect your identity? How does it colour your personality? The way we speak becomes a verbal shorthand. Words and letters missed out to enable us to speak quicker. I’m goin’ t’pub. Human beings will always find a short cut. Look at the evolution of text messaging in the past decade. Look at any grassy square with straight paths around the side. Then there is a sense of local identity and local pride in a dropped aitch or a wobbly diphthong. And the feeling, not always natural, of fitting in with those that surround you. Human beings are imitators. That’s how we learn most of our skills as children. Monkey see, monkey do. That’s how we acquire skills and ways of understanding that we often never really question later in life. We do things and say things without truly appreciating them. Our speech and sayings are indicative of this. It’s like place names that we accept at face value simply as names devoid of meaning without understanding their origins. The Anglo-Saxon suffixes, the Norse surnames, the Norman impositions. But will the turns of expression that we litter our speech with affect our thought processes? And how are the thought processes of our brain linked together with words? Do we think with a region accent? Will our accents and familiar sayings engender preconceptions? Does an accent colour our thoughts as heavily as it does our ability to say ‘book’ to rhyme with ‘duke’, and pronouncing ‘there’ so it sounds like ‘dare’? Will you pass me dat dare bewk?

 

But in the modern world how long can all this last? Regional identity is under threat. Regional identity makes us more difficult to govern. Pronouncing ‘right’ to rhyme with ‘weight’ is morally divisive. Surely it can’t be allowed to go on. Perhaps eventually we will all be indoctrinated with some form of Newspeak. Blandness and homogeny programmed into us, all individuality routed out. How now, brown cow. The rain in Spain. The water in Majorca… How now, brown cow. The rain in Spain. The water in Majorca… How now, brown cow. The rain in Spain. The water in Majorca… How now, brown cow. The rain in Spain. The water in Majorca… How now, brown cow. The rain in Spain. The water in Majorca… How now, brown cow. The rain in Spain. The water in Majorca… How now, brown cow. The rain in Spain. The water in Majorca… How now, brown cow. The rain in Spain. The water in Majorca… How now, brown cow. The rain in Spain. The water in Majorca… How now, brown cow. The rain in Spain. The water in Majorca… How now, brown cow. The rain in Spain. The water in Majorca… How now, brown cow. The rain in Spain. The water in Majorca… Say it again and again and again until we all sound exactly the same. Until Received Pronunciation is stamped into your physiology and branded onto your psyche. Until we all speak beautiful and totally sterile English. Perhaps then we will all be more obliging with what we think and believe. Perhaps then we will have less to argue about. Less to disagree with. When all the differences between us will be removed. Our local, shared identities beaten out and obliterated until we’re all shiny and smooth. This following on from the programme of house building which has seen housing estates the length and breadth of the country drawn meticulously from the selfsame blueprints. The United Kingdom of Barratt homes. This following the programme of ASDA/Sainsbury’s Tesconomy that rules the land and has brought the same products in exactly the same looking stores all over the country. You lucky affluent bastards.

 

As we made our way back down from the town centre to the car we walked parallel with a kid with ginger hair wearing an England football shirt. He was speaking to a friend and saying he was out to buy some wee tatties for his bonnie bairn and expressing his hopes about England’s chances in the upcoming friendly with Holland. This, I thought, was what Coca-cola and the New Seekers were hoping for. A world of rich harmony and smiling multi-culturalism. A world for us all to share. A world where borders meant nothing.

 

Sean Connery, are you listening? You porridge munching twat.

 

* Equally from the North by another non-descript roundabout, this time with a Morrison’s supermarket plonked on the side.

Tonight let’s all make love in London

On Saturday 29th April 1967 into Sunday 30th, the 14 hour Technicolour Dream was held at the Alexandra Palace in London. John Lennon appeared, and the Pretty Things. Together with an array of other psychedelic acts. As dawn broke over the Summer of Love The Pink Floyd took to the stage. Syd Barrett played the same D7sus chord for twenty minutes during ‘Interstellar Overdrive’. They were hailed as geniuses.

 

These poor fuckers got ASBOs instead:

A busking duo who tormented a Birmingham village by continuously playing just two songs have been given an ASBO banning them from performing in the area.

Guitarist James Ryan and dustbin lid-player Andrew Stevens would regularly perform late night renditions of the only songs they knew – Wonderwall by Oasis and George Michael’s Faith – in Moseley village, Birmingham.

However, the plug has been pulled on their impromptu gigs after frustrated locals said the performances turned Moseley into a ‘nightmare of loud noise and fighting’.

The complaints led to Ryan, 40, and Stevens, 39 – both of no fixed address – being banned from entering parts of Moseley and playing musical instruments in public in the area. The pair were also banned from begging anywhere in England and Wales.

They were warned they faced jail if they breached the two-year anti-social behaviour orders handed down yesterday by District Judge Qureshi at Birmingham Magistrates Court.

After the hearing, Ryan said: “The whole thing’s about playing a guitar, it’s a joke. Most people loved it.”

Birmingham City Council said the pair stood near taxi ranks, cash points and various pubs in Moseley singing and begging, often playing from early evening into the early hours. Revellers often joined in with them at pub closing time.

One resident was forced to call police 60 times after attempts to talk to the pair was met with “abuse and threats”.

Matt Williams, 43, who has since moved out of the area, said: “I break down every time I hear Wonderwall or the intro to Faith. It was just one after the other, it was awful.

“It was everything from the noise of them busking on the streets, to begging and causing fights, to the general lawlessness it encouraged while they were there. They would go on until four, five or six in the morning. It was horrendous. It completely affected my life.

“I couldn’t sleep but it had a far deeper effect where all of a sudden your home isn’t a place where you could feel comfortable, safe or secure. I didn’t feel I had anywhere that was my sanctuary.”

Another victim, aged 40, added: “If you popped out to go to the shops, you would get hassled on the way out and hassled on the way back.”

Residents said that after interim banning orders against the pair were granted earlier this year, the atmosphere around Moseley Village had dramatically improved.

from the Independent, Thursday 20th August 2009

‘The atmosphere around Moseley Village had dramatically improved.’ Bloody Squares!

Did you know…?

Many supposed film cognoscenti falsely believe that American director Quentin Tarantino, famed for the films Jackie Brown and Reservoir Dogs, was influenced by the jumping chronology of 1950s film The Killers when penning his 1995 academy award winning gangster flick PULP FICTION, starring ultra-cool Samuel L. Jackson and a curtains-wearing John Travolta. However, the true inspiration behind the LA-set movie which features a hallmark-Tarantino quirky timeline was former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the footage from the 18th June 1984 riot at the Orgreave coking plant between Rotherham and Sheffield, South Yorkshire during the year-long 1984/85 U.K. Miners Strike.

 

So struck with this excellent and effective piece of dramatic licence – where the actual chronological order of events was surreptitiously reversed when screened on the BBC television news that night; thus showing striking miners initiating the violence which marked the day, rather than the police – was the geeky American filmmaker that Tarantino turned most of his story arse about face in order to get more of a wow from the audience. Hey, confessed Tarantino, at the Cannes film festival in 1996, where PULP FICTION snatched the coveted Palme d Or, it worked for my bitch Maggie, I knew it could work for me!

 

Motherfucker.


Miners copy3

Things I hate #8

Automatic checkouts. I seriously despise those fuckers. In principle they’re a good idea. Let’s face it, anything that means you have to endure less interaction with other human beings and their selfish bad manners, their sticky germs, their appalling, unbending attitudes and their repulsive, blackhead-pitted skins has to be a good thing. But the technology is flawed. It’s shite.

 

The system is simple enough. You’re essentially saving the supermarket some money and working for them for free by checking out your own shopping, thus allowing them to sack the members of staff who would have been working the tills. Serves ‘em right, the miserable fuckers. A big thumbs up for capitalism. You scan your choices in, then bag them up, insert cash into a note reader/coin feed, or chip and PIN your bank card, HAL then thanks you for your custom and away you toddle. Simple as. Except it’s not. Because, despite the big-hearted slogans and the loyalty cards, the supermarkets don’t trust you. The supermarkets know that at heart you’re all thieving bastards and you’d fleece them of their last tin of Rice Pudding given half the chance. And so they have programmed such a level of distrust and suspicion into the automatic checkouts that they’re constantly challenging your honesty. The fuckers are paranoid.

 

Anything you scan has to be put in into a bag which is suspended between two prongs over a weight sensitive plate, or onto the conveyor belt which (again is weight sensitive and) carries all your groceries so that they can be messed up in a bagging area. If anything appears on the weight sensor that hasn’t been scanned you’ve had it. Because shoplifters are notorious for bagging up their swag and would never dream of putting anything in their pockets. Equally anything you scan has to be put in a bag. This last stipulation has got nothing to do with the supermarket but is an initiative started by the express checkout CPU itself because the computer wants you to use more plastic carrier bags, destroy the ecology and kill the planet so that machines can take over.

 

My trip the other lunchtime was typical. Chicken and bacon sandwich with mayo on brown, bar of chocolate, bag of crisps, bottle of Coke. No challenges there, I hear you say. Think again. We started with the crisps. Beep!

 

‘PLEASE PUT THE ITEM INTO THE BAG,’ says a robotic female voice pitched with well-enunciated superciliousness.

 

I look down. I look back at the machine. I have, it’s there. It’s in the bag. Let’s move onto the next one.

 

But no, it won’t move onto the next one. It’s not going to let this lie. Because you’re trying to have its pants down, aren’t you, you thieving cunt. The barcode reader is locked and every CCTV camera in the store has now trained it’s beady eyes on me. I can almost feel the laser guiding red dots on my chest. Zooming in on my head. Go ahead, punk…

 

The machine underlines the problem: ‘PLEASE PUT THE ITEM INTO THE BAG.’

 

I’m in danger of repeating myself here. It’s in the fucking bag.

 

‘No it isn’t. You’ve pocketed it along with a gas barbecue set worth £159.99. PLEASE PUT THE ITEM INTO THE BAG.’

 

It’s in the fucking bag!

 

This implied accusation that somehow I’m shoplifting scum goes on until it sees me retrieve the Seabrooks’ Ready Salted and then begin hurling the packet back into the bag like John McEnroe grounding his Slazenger racket into the turf like it’s Wimbledon c. 1983 in the hope that the weight sensor just might believe that the fucking crisps are there.

 

IS IT IN THE FUCKING BAG NOW?!

 

The computer thinks about it. Finally, the suspicious twat chip inside the machine recognizes my now broken packet of Seabrooks. It nods it’s head and grudgingly beeps as if to say, ‘I knew you had it all the time you light-fingered fucker’ and we progress.

 

I scan my next purchase. Beep! I drop it into the carrier.

 

‘UNEXPECTED ITEM IN THE BAGGING AREA.’

 

Eh? What do you mean ‘unexpected item’?! How the fuck can it be ‘unexpected’? I just scanned it and you agreed that it was a Toffee Crisp and cost 0.44p. I dropped it into the bag. How can it suddenly be ‘unexpected’, you daft twat! It’s not a fucking mini-fridge, is it?!

 

‘PLEASE WAIT FOR ASSISTANCE.’

 

WHAT???!!!!!!! ‘Please WAIT!!! Please fucking WAIT!!!!!! Zipperdeefuckingdoodah! The whole point in this fucking process is that I don’t have to fucking wait. Because I haven’t got the fucking time to wait. The red light goes on regardless, indicating the start of a foot-tapping, obscenity-generating, anger-fostering, bile simmering pause until some assistant finds the motivation to drag themselves away from a conversation about dildos with an equally unenthusiastic co-worker and shamble across. ‘It always does this,’ she inevitably says. A dead voice and a sour look on her face. ‘You fucking Luddite!’ she might as well add. ‘You thieving fucking Luddite!’ She’s the machine’s slave. She’s the computer’s lacky. Until boffins can devise robots that are any good in a foot chase, she’s got herself a job. Pretending to help you out, surreptitiously she checks to see if you’ve got a patio heater tucked up your t-shirt or a 50 inch LCD shoved in the carrier bag.

 

She swipes her card. She reassures the machine. I smile. Cheers, love. Always does it? Really? I know it fucking always does this, because it’s done it every fucking time I’ve used the bastard thing!

 

That it fucks up constantly, with at least every second item that you scan, is compounded by the fact that you only used the ‘express checkout’ because you were in a fucking hurry in the first bastard place. Twats. Humanity-quenching, money-fucking-grabbing, suspicious bastard twats. And now you’re late. And now you’re wound up. Every little helps, my fucking arse.