Strangers next door

This mid-80s Mercedes 230E – a beautiful car – shares a garage with me. It’s been there since I moved into my flat last summer and clearly hasn’t been touched by anybody other than kids. The grime was there when I moved in, as were the flat tyres you can’t see in that photo.

I’m fascinated by it.

I don’t know who owns it – the parking spaces are numbered, but don’t correspond to any system I’m privy to; the person who parks next to me lives in a completely different block – but I’m assuming the residents’ association does. The garage is a private one, residents only, and if you park when you shouldn’t you’ll have a letter on your windscreen before you’ve even got the key out of the ignition.

I’m intrigued by the possibilities, because this is costing somebody money: the garage is part of the deal here, and if you’re an owner you pay ongoing fees for it, for the lifts and for other communal things. If like me you rent, part of the rent covers that. So clearly somebody’s paying.

That probably rules out death. A dead tenant pays no rent; a dead owner pays no service charges.

Unless they’ve paid for a year or more up-front, of course.

Maybe the person is alive, but elsewhere. Maybe they work overseas. Would you keep paying service charges for a place you don’t stay in? Maybe, if you own the property and intend to keep it for many more years.

Or maybe the owner is still there. Maybe they can’t use it any more because of mobility issues.

But if the car can’t be used, or won’t be for very long periods, wouldn’t you sell it? It’s a W123, the last of the bombproof Mercs, and they’re still in demand: I’m currently looking at the same model, in roughly the same condition, on a 1984 A-plate. It’s on Auto Trader for £14,000.

That one’s unusual, though: barely driven, having spent most of its life in sunny Cyprus and used occasionally as a holiday car. This one’s rotting away in considerably less sunny Partick, and clearly worth considerably less money.

They can’t be keeping it as an investment. They’d have washed it occasionally, or covered it up. They wouldn’t have left it looking like this.

It’s a mystery.

This is a car that was loved, or at least looked after. Beneath the grime the chrome still shines; the sky blue paint still shimmers. Somebody cared about this car once, and yet here it is with flat tyres, a patina of grime and crude graffiti.

The owner lives, or lived, in the same flats as me, no more than a stone’s throw from where I’m writing this. And yet I’ve never seen them, and I suspect I never will.

Update, 14/3: The car owner filed a SORN (statutory off-road notification) in 2012. The car’s been parked longer than I thought.

“The world is very different when you walk in women’s shoes”

Metro asked me to write about International Women’s Day from the perspective of a trans person.

There’s no method to this madness, no reason for it. Men aren’t from Mars, women aren’t from Venus, and nobody’s made of slugs, snails or puppy dogs’ tails, let alone sugar and spice and all things nice. The only reason we value supposedly masculine traits and roles over supposedly feminine ones, the only reason women are treated so badly, is because – surprise! – the people who’ve traditionally decided what’s important are a bunch of guys.

The inkies were the internet of the 80s

It’s been a logo slapped on a generic lifestyle title for years, of course, but the official end of NME – formerly the New Musical Express, the last of the famed “inkie” music magazines – is still sad.

The music press was the internet of my childhood: a lifeline, proof of intelligent life beyond the boundaries of my home town. Q and Empire founder David Hepworth once described a good magazine as feeling like a letter from a friend. For me, that was NME.

The NME had a huge influence on my writing style, and I can remember tons of the sub-editors’ puns. Punning headlines are an art sadly lost in these days of search engine optimisation and clickbait. My personal favourite was one that annoyed the Welsh band Manic Street Preachers: “You Sexy Merthyr Fuckers”. I laughed for about a week at that one.

We’ll no doubt see a bunch of think pieces banging on about Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons and Paul Morley of the 70s NME, but to me the late 80s and early 90s were when the NME was at its peak. It had better writers, too: Steven Wells and Sylvia Patterson never failed to disappoint and often delivered astonishing journalism. The photography was often superb too, with the likes of Kevin Cummins and Roger Sargent producing some truly iconic images.

It wasn’t just influential, although of course it was: in those pre-internet days the music press could, as the cliché had it, build ’em up and knock ’em down. But it was also educational, ambitious and frequently very, very funny. My abiding memory of the NME isn’t the music, or any of the bands. It’s of laughing so hard it hurt.


“My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come?”

Good news for anybody stuck in 1818: The Sun and The Times have both shared the incredible revelation that according to “snowflake students”, the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus should be pitied.

Here’s The Sun:

Next the snowflakes will be telling us that The Metamorphosis wasn’t really about cockroaches and that Jonathan Swift didn’t really want us to eat children.

As the kids might put it: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


The problem with concert tickets

Secondary ticketing – the sites ripping off consumers by charging enormous fees on top of industrial scale ticket touting – is in the news again today. We need more transparency about their charges, apparently.

That’s true: the sites use every trick in the book to hide their fees, which are ridiculous. There’s a huge service charge, which can be as much as 30%, and the sites take a cut of the seller’s money too, typically 10% to 15%. Consumers are gouged at every opportunity. For example, GetMeIn – owned by Ticketmaster and promoted heavily on its site, and on the screens in venues such as the SSE Hydro in Glasgow – charges £10.57 to post your tickets in the UK. You’d think its buyer and seller fees might include the cost of an envelope and a stamp.

Transparency isn’t the big problem here. It’s the entire industry. These sites, and the sections of the industry that feed them, are making music unaffordable for ordinary people.

What we really need is more transparency about the sheer corruption of the concert ticketing industry. Ticket touting is happening on an industrial scale, and the idea that reselling is just ordinary people who discover they can’t go is absolute bullshit.

This is an industry worth £1 billion per year in the UK.

Here’s Viagogo, one of the reselling sites, with one of the 28 pages of tickets for the Rolling Stones in Edinburgh. Many of the sellers apparently bought four or six tickets before suddenly remembering that they couldn’t go.

Here’s Iron Maiden’s manager, Rod Smallwood, who found nearly 7,000 tickets for his band’s tour on the resale sites within 48 hours of going on sale.

“The implication is that 6,294 people decided within two days of buying a ticket for a concert taking place in 9 months’ time, all of a sudden they can’t go. I mean it’s sheer nonsense, it was just profiteering to the worst degree. The secondary platforms give the real heavy duty touts the ability to sell tickets on an industrial scale.”

This is anti-consumer behaviour. It’s making art something only the well-off can experience, because whenever you have something for which demand will always outweigh supply you’ll attract sharks.

And the government knows this. This kind of profiteering with football tickets is illegal under section 166 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, further amended by section 53 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. It was also illegal to re-sell tickets for the 2012 Olympics.

It should be illegal for music too.

If you’d like to know more, the FanFair Alliance has some excellent information for you.

DMGM: Never Lonely Again

This one’s about being enormously sociable on the internet and completely alone in real life. David came up with the main riff while messing around with the SoundPrism app, and despite my best efforts to turn it into a punk-metal song it ended up much more floaty. You can imagine Snoop Dogg rapping over it. Well, I can.

DMGM: The Sun Is Gonna Shine

This one’s three years old, and it’s about optimism: after a year of treatment my depression seemed to be on the way out, and I wanted to try and capture that in music. I love David’s guitar in this: it’s woozy and languid, which fits the subject perfectly.

Most of the time when I write words I imagine somebody else writing them, so while I’m in there not everything is autobiographical: it’s imagining somebody whose illness was much worse than mine, leaving burnt bridges and ruined relationships in its wake. So while it’s about optimism and starting again it’s also about the crushing loneliness of someone who’s hit rock bottom: “the sun is gonna shine today” is as much of a prayer as it is a statement.

Notes on the Kelpies

The Kelpies are two 30-metre statues near Falkirk. I think they’re beautiful, and even the best photos don’t really do them justice. Standing at the foot of them is awe-inspiring.

I love them, and I’d love it even more if people made this kind of thing a thing: this is a photo my friend Chris from the BBC took there yesterday showing a note someone had left for other visitors.

Imagine not just one note, but many: a mane of affirmations and hopes and prayers like the locks on Paris’s Pont Des Arts.

Wouldn’t it be great if the Kelpies became not just a beautiful work of art, but a beautiful, living work of art?

Let’s talk about sex, baby

I posted the other day about supposed trans-species people, but I think my point got a bit lost.

  • Transgender people are real.
  • Werewolves, elves and dragons aren’t.

There’s no such thing as a dragon spectrum, where some people are a little bit dragon and others quite a lot.

There’s no chromosome that makes you an elf.

No hormone that’ll make you a werewolf.

Whereas transgender people are part of the infinite variety of human brains and bodies.

Think of it like making soup: a slight change in the recipe, in the quality of the ingredients, in the way you cook, in the amount of seasoning you add or the time you cook can have a big effect on the end result.

What’s true for minestrone is equally true for human beings. Our biological soup has room for all kinds of variations.