Lust For Glory
The story of power is big news at the moment as over here we have Richard III all over the TV who went from having it all to being tarmaced over by the council; the American streaming network Netflix has remade our classic House of Cards as a 13 part series with the badger-hunting Kevin Spacey as a psuedo-Francis Urquhart; and the BBC has finally brought the Scottish hero Bob Servant to TV for the first time to follow his fight for political office as an independent candidate. And all this brought to mind my own bloodthirsty lust for glory, which surely rivals Macbeth’s own, and undoubtedly helped make me the sort of person I am today. Let me take you by the hand and lead you down the rabbit hole…
I have been a fan of Bob Servant from even before he was first published. A resident of Broughty Ferry he oft-reminds you that he’s a veteran of the Dundee cheeseburger wars of the eighties and that he went on to own the largest window cleaning round in Western Europe until he had his ladders stolen by Gypsies. That’s Bob all over. His first book Delete This at your Peril sees Bob, a retired gentleman who happened to win a computer in the bowling club raffle, take on internet spammers from all over the world by replying to them and leading them a merry dance whilst all they’re trying to do is extract his bank details from him. There was only going to be one winner. Radio Scotland dramatised six of these encounters with the Hollywood star Brian Cox and they even animated a shortened version of one of them which, if you’re interested, can be viewed here.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p014503m (Sorry not on YouTube, it seems, so I hope it’s viewable in your region)
Now to misquote a line from Shakespeare: “Be not afraid of power: some are born powerful, some achieve power and some have power thrust upon them”. I very definitely fall into the latter category as my ideal situation in life is hiding away from the world under the duvet. Unfortunately, throughout my life, I’ve always had a little voice at the back of my head: Not one animating the neighbour’s dog to give me instructions about going on a killing spree, but one that’s repeatedly forced me to put myself forward for things I quite happily wouldn’t have. And all this in the hope that it would bring my out of my shell and make me a better person.
It was quite a surprise when in the final year of Primary School I was appointed Head Boy. I never saw that coming, especially as it was only a year previous that they’d decided that I was capable of using a pen to write with. Another of my academic failings is that I had no interest in football whatsoever, and it may be this that helped in my appointment as it meant that every Thursday afternoon was no longer spent running around a field, but instead doing my job of visiting all the teachers in the school to collect their nominations for that week’s merit badge. And thus I was privy to the secrets that lay within.
Then came Secondary School and each form was asked to provide representatives. Despite being classed as a loner, that little voice in my head made me put myself out there for some sort of class election, but seeing we were mostly strangers from the amalgamation of different Primary Schools we didn’t know each other yet and that’s where my previous form came in handy as I overheard someone selling me to the others on the back of my sterling Head Boy role. I can’t remember who I was up against, but I won.
College was something similar, with that little voice forcing me to do stuff, then came Birmingham University and in my Edgbaston Halls of Residence where student representatives were wanted from each floor [the numbers involved on my floor were fantastical: 23 students, 1 shower, 1 cooker] there I was again putting myself forward and attending meetings for a couple of months, before the big one came up. Chamberlain Hall had seven hundred students, and some claim about being one of the biggest halls of residence in Europe. Seeing as the JCR filched thirty pounds from each student it meant that they commanded an annual budge of over twenty thousand pounds, the elections for all the posts within this were held before Christmas, and for some crazy reason (see above) I decided to run for President. I cannot stress how crazy this must have been and how ill-suited I would have been for the role. In the end it took the death of my Grandfather at the end of November 1995 to prevent me throwing my hat in the ring and making a fool of myself.
Still, elections went ahead and some guy with a name a bit like that of Hollywood film star Tim Robbins, although different, won and the highlight of his year-long power trip was when he was caught dipping his hand into the JCR cash to pay for takeaways because he “thought he deserved it”. The ideal role model I’ve always remembered was the girl he replaced called Angie Meadows and every time I hear Angie by the Rolling Stones I still think of her. This is almost half a lifetime ago.
That boat may have sailed, but then I stuck around in Chamberlain Hall and one year later, for whatever bizarre reason, I just couldn’t help myself. At least in that time I’d lowered my ambitions and decided to go for one of the Vice-Presidential roles in the form of the secretary. I have no idea what that job entailed and, I suspect, I didn’t have much of a better clue back then. But like Hunter S. Thompson before me: I was on the campaign trail.
I’d seen other people’s poster campaigns. They were boring. Really boring. These people came along and blue-tacked their boring posers up, left them there, and that was it. The only variation was in how they got defaced and vandalised. So I set out to do it better. My posters weren’t going to be boring. My posters were going to be different. And my posters were going to change throughout the campaign so boredom didn’t set in.
Due to the elections taking place not so long after my return to Birmingham, after the summer holidays, all I had in my PR armoury was one issue of Doctor Who Magazine (number 245), one issue of the Fortean Times (number 93), and some magazine I’d picked up for free on the train. And with the limited pictures contained within I ran my poster campaign. To give the Kiss poster its full credit it was a joke I saw on Monty Python so I guess it’s copyright to Terry Gilliam. Please don’t sue.
My self-deprecating humour (or low opinion of myself) was obviously present even then as looking back most of these posters were telling the electorate how rubbish I was. I think this may be in reaction to all the boring posters that were full of claims of how people you’d never met were the best even though they offered no evidence to back this up. That and I was dazzling them with reverse psychology. The “reverse psychology” then continued with added classic lines from British sitcoms. These days I’d be all over the internet getting the exact quote, but then I had to rely on what was engrained in my memory. Why that train magazine seems to have had a picture of John Cleese that accompanies the pen line from Fawlty Towers I do not know. And then, I don’t know, I must have been having so much fun doing all this that I got just puzzling. I mean, beefing up the former Olympic athlete Liz McColgan to play on the BSE crisis? And I don’t think that, now or ever, did I have people refer to me as the Honey Monster, but I guess you just have to play the pictures from the magazines as they lie. Then from puzzling to the bizarre. I mean I started relying on people’s ability to identify my posters as I even stopped adding my name to them. Bright Eyes is a combination of a haunting song from Watership Down, a famous poster at the time trying to demonise Tony Blair (it didn’t work, he won the 1997 election with a landslide), and my enduring belief in that there’s something funny in mistakenly believing that Tony is actually related to the camp tap dancing star of light entertainment Lionel Blair. It probably still isn’t funny now. But I was unstoppable. Off the f*cking chain, possibly, but unstoppable all the same. My neighbour on the fifth floor started to get in on the act towards the end and decided to invent another candidate in the form of a Leopard. I don’t know why. But still I wasn’t too proud and reissued one of my old posters with my own celebrity endorser, who previously called me out on being “sh*tty”, to now endorsing made-up characters. Viewing all this now it looks like some sort of cry for help. Perhaps I should submit these posters as evidence to see whether I should be committed somewhere. But I hope that you’ll agree I was certainly committed to this election. There was something about a chemistry degree going on at the same time, but that was very much in the background. And, after I had warmed up the electorate with my publicity campaign, then came the hustings where I came face to face with the ugly voting masses. And I had a special plan on how I was going to deal with them too.
I had been eying up my competitors through the medium of their posters. The only one bothering was a guy called Matthew Patient who used various guff quotes such as “The faintest ink is better than the best memory” which, in the context of souped-up popularity competition, were ultimately meaningless. And it was only at the hustings that I got quite a shock when we finally met in the flesh and realised that we actually knew each other. Just not our surnames.
As much as I planned to sweep away all presented to me I did like Matt and so I felt sorry when I got to go up before him. I’ve already mentioned how tired I was of people claiming they were the best, droning on with long speeches about it, but I don’t think I told them that as what I did say was that I would try my best, and that I could say no more… And so I didn’t. I sat down. Everyone cheered for the startling and brief honesty. I actually saw the colour drain from Matt’s face as he then had to stand up and give his lengthier pre-written speech. He looked stunned afterwards like he’d just been mugged.
And then came the election and, despite being the quiet loner with no social life, I had people coming up to me shaking my hand and telling me that they’d just voted for me. The leg work had been done and from hereon in it was a downhill ride coasting to victory. I was a shoo in.
I should add that, on a heartening note, not one single poster that I put up was defaced or vandalised which I took as a sign that people had respected my efforts. I was in tune with the student population by giving the gift of humour, and variation, and I asked for nothing in return… except that they went out and voted me into power like some sort of benevolent Hitler.
And then the ballot was counted, and the results posted up for all to see.
It probably wasn’t worth asking for a recount.
Of course I lost. I must’ve been some sort of fool. It was for a role I was probably ill-capable of carrying out as I lacked the social skills to arrange social events for hundreds of students. I didn’t even drink. It’s probably heartening to know that enough people saw through me.
For posterity’s sake: I swept the boards with over twenty percent (31) of the votes. Compare this to the paltry six voters asking for the nominations to be reopened: I don’t know why as it was a right sideshow of candidates to begin with, which included one who didn’t even bother to turn up or advertise: if this were a science experiment then he was the control group, and I only managed ten more votes than him. All that for ten votes! One of them was my own.
Plus, fourteen of the seven hundred students could be bothered to vote, yet saw fit to spoil their nomination somehow. As you can see we thought it only fair to claim these votes for the Leopard candidate by defacing the poster. A poster which, shortly afterwards, someone pinched off the wall. Bloody students. I remember my Birmingham University years as my forgotten years as I can’t remember much about them. I certainly didn’t enjoy them. I somehow can’t balance the above account, taken from primary sources, with the miserable loner I believe myself to have been. I have no recall whatsoever of how I felt after my defeat, but I suspect that I might have secretly thought that I got off lightly and thus, after the thrill of the campaign, had got the best of both worlds.
Only time will tell how Bob Servant’s campaign for political power goes. So far he’s already locked horns with his mainstream rival, who’s been parachuted in from England as a fait accompli, and in an effort to gain some votes, when not drinking down at Stewpot’s bar, he’s turned to “chasing skirt” and wooing the religious vote, who he believed were just about “singsongs and horoscopes”. And it is heartening to know that Bob has been having poster issues too. He too didn’t go for the bold claim that he was the best, but instead played on his local advantage and told his campaign manager Frank the Plank to incorporate the message that they all knew him and that he was alright kind of guy. When Bob took Frank to task about the finished result he defended the message in his handiwork with “You’re not going to send it much better than that. I mean, this… This sends it. Exactly.” One thing that me and Bob Servant have in common is that election campaigns would surely be a lot duller without the likes of us. And so what if the electorate may be able to see through us for the fools we may be because, after all, they’ve probably had the best out of us already. But then I don’t have any regrets because, in elections as in life: It’s all about the journey.