When I worked for the Scottish Court Service I joined the union and became a representative for my office, primarily because I liked the thought of officially sanctioned time away from my desk, and indeed the entire building. It helped that most days out on union business consisted of 5 per cent conferencing to 95 per cent drinking.
Whilst installed as the office representative I became adept at asking meaningless yet persistent questions at conferences in a bid to justify my presence in the union flock. I’d say something like, “A few people in the office were asking if they could get some free pens. Well, can they?” and then nod sagely. I once half-heartedly participated in a strike for better pay conditions. I spent an entire day standing at the picket line limply clutching a sign, chain-smoking and nodding silently at everyone as they walked past me. I think I muttered ‘scab’ under my breath a couple of times, just as my hero Che Guevara would’ve done. A manager eventually brought me out a cup of coffee and a sandwich, which I accepted without hesitation. I think you’ll find that the Communist Manifesto has quite a lot to say about the importance of balancing worker solidarity with the delicious necessity of free cheese sandwiches, even if they do come from the hands of your bastard enemies.
Sometime during the steely reign of my short stewardship, our national executive issued a memo urging us to boycott Coca Cola. Coca Cola was accused of turning a blind eye to the plight of workers at its many sub-contracted South American bottling plants. Right-wing paramilitary groups – allegedly in collusion with the plants’ owners – were murdering, or otherwise ‘disappearing’, workers for the crime of organising unions. The workers were only trying to ameliorate their poor working conditions and make a better life for themselves and their families. Coca Cola’s silence and inaction in the face of this horrific systemic homicide was taken as tacit approval of the paramilitaries’ methods. “COCA COLA? …Death-o… Cola… more like,” I’d mutter quietly to myself, before taking another sip of Coca Cola.
My personal boycott lasted less than four hours. 9am until lunchtime. Vive le revolution! I loved Coca Cola back then, you see. Drank it every day. Came to depend upon it. It was my fizzy heroin in a can; my daily hangover cure. “Why can’t they be killing workers at Dr Pepper factories instead?” I lamented. “I fucking hate Dr Pepper.” I was ashamed of my weakness. There were men in the world who would give up blood, freedom, family and oxygen for their principles, and I couldn’t even kick Coca Cola for four fucking hours. Thankfully, I’ve long since abandoned the drink. Not for any ideological reasons. I’ve simply arrived at the conclusion that Coca Cola is a black broth of tooth-taking, penny-polishing, pancreas-punishing arse-juice that leaves your heart flopping about like a fish in a bucket. And that’s a Scotsman saying that.
When something I own breaks, I tend not to fix it, but instead force myself to adapt to the new reality of its brokenness. I once had a TV that could only be switched on if the power button at the front of the unit was pressed in as far as it could go and held there at a constant pressure. Naturally, instead of mending or replacing the TV, I pressed the button in as far as it would go, and then used a rook from my chess set and a roll of masking tape to hold it in place. I then left it like that for three years. Check mate, TV. Check mate!
When the locks in my old Fiesta started to fail one by one, rather than have it mended I simply allowed my method of entering the car to evolve naturally. When the lock on the driver’s side seized, I clambered in to the car through the passenger side. When the passenger side failed, I went in through the back seats. When all of the locks had failed, I climbed in through the boot. Every time I entered my car it looked like I was either a) participating in an all-cripple version of It’s a Knockout, or b) in the process of breaking into it. Thankfully, in the part of town in which I lived, car-jacking wasn’t an unusual occurrence, allowing me to fit in as ‘one of the lads’.
I don’t think I suffer from apathy per se, or at least not all of the time. I have an incredibly low tolerance for frustration that co-exists with a fear of failure, an expectation of failure and a rage at the world for not doing what I want it to do. If I sometimes take the easy route, or hit the button for the ejector seat, it’s less about laziness and more about saving myself an exhausting, four-letter-word-fuelled explosive meltdown.
My mum said I cried and wailed at the age of four because I couldn’t write functional computer programs on the ZX Spectrum. When I was twelve, a faulty dot-matrix printer made me so angry that I snapped a fountain pen in half, leaving me with a big blue face that took an hour to scrub clean. If I hadn’t been wearing specs I probably would’ve been blinded, no doubt learning in the process some biblical lesson about the cost of anger: a pen for a printer makes the wee fanny blind, perhaps.
When my step-sister and I linked our Gameboys together and she beat me at two-player Tetris, I headbutted my Gameboy, smashing the screen to smithereens. I hid the evidence at the bottom of a toy hamper, and waited for the heat to die down. For more on this subject, have a read of this: http://www.denofgeek.com/games/videogames/31783/frustrating-games-in-videogame-history ).
Don’t ask me to fix finicky things, or build up intricate items of furniture from Ikea. I’ll only end up hurling them out of a window. Or standing around with a big red face promising to murder myself in a series of increasingly ludicrous ways. “If this piece doesn’t fit I swear I’m going to puncture my lung with a toothbrush, and spend my dying minutes cracking my fucking skull open by beating it against my own knee! I MEAN IT, I REALLY MEAN IT, I FUC… oh, it fits. Excellent.” (strides off whistling)
If I’m stuck in traffic, I’ll swing the car around in a cloud of f’s and c’s and take a ten-mile detour in the wrong direction rather than confront the heart-pumping frustration of a very mildly inconvenient traffic jam. The modern world makes a Hulk out of me. I’ve almost ripped worlds apart trying to open tins of corned beef.
In my early twenties my GP referred me to a Stress Management group, which comprised a gaggle of cripplingly shy and shaky-handed people, including one old hippy guy who was in a state of terror because he thought we were all going to invite ourselves en masse to his house after the meeting. I don’t belong here with these fucking mental cases, I thought to myself, rather uncharitably, and wholly unrealistically.
Still, I thought it would be smart to keep going, in a bid to better understand my stinking thinking, and how to counteract it. Week two arrived, and I was cooking some chicken in the oven before group. I was starving, and running late. The chicken had been packaged in some sort of plastic tub, which in retrospect I don’t think should’ve been placed in the oven. The plastic warped with the heat, and when I tried to retrieve it it wobbled and wilted in my hands, sending globs of burning hot sauce all over my hands, and raining chunks of chicken down upon the kitchen floor. I hurled the floppy, half-empty tub across the room and aimed a hard kick at the oven. “THAT’S… IT!” I shouted, standing there with my arms hanging down at my waste, my fists balled in rage. “I’M TOO STRESSED OUT TO GO TO THIS STUPID FUCKING STRESS MANAGEMENT GROUP!” The delicious irony of this angry ejaculation caused me to laugh like a madman, my anger gone as quickly as it had arrived. I never made it back to the group… although I did try to break into the hippy’s house a few times.
The independence referendum in 2014 shook me out of my apathy a little. I genuinely cared about the political process again, and desperately wanted to do my bit to bring about change, even if my bit was just talking twaddle with strangers and signing an ‘X’ on a little piece of paper. I have friends who felt moved to canvass and campaign for their parties of choice in the wake of Scotland’s political re-awakening. I thought about it. And then realised I couldn’t be arsed. Oh, there’s a town meeting tonight. Right, I’d really better get along and… actually Monday’s not a good time for me. It’s Game of Thrones night. There’s one on Wednesday, too? Hmmm. I’ll probably be a bit tired by then… OH WHAT’S THE POINT, WE’LL ALL JUST GET CRUSHED UNDER THE WHEELS OF THE MACHINE, FREE WILL IS AN ILLUSION, THE ILLUMINATI CONTROL EVERYTHING ANYWAY. Plus I’ve got to take my missus to the bingo.
Yes, I’m crazy. But I think to campaign for things – to dedicate your life to an ideal – is its own form of craziness. I’m the wrong kind of crazy to change the world. I wish I could harness my rage and frustration and point it in the direction of a worthwhile cause, but I can’t (unless it directly involves my family’s health, happiness or safety, I’m not really interested). Thankfully, there are passionate people out there with the zeal of psychopathic stamp collectors who can fly the flag on my behalf across a whole range of issues. I salute those fucking lunatics, I really do. Half-heartedly, of course.
When I can be bothered raising my arm.
PS: I started writing this in February.