Monday, August 31, 2009

Van Morrison changed my life

Nats was telling me last night how lucky she was to have met me and have her life transformed from a dull grind full of greyness and gloom into a Technicolor cartoon full of shiny happy bunnies dancing the fandango with cute little monkeys in waistcoasts while petals rain down from the sky. Hurray!

Actually, what she really said that she was glad she started fencing and met me because I had helped in the creation of Charlotte. I guess it is just common courtesy to thank the sperm donor, but I’ll take any kind of compliment I can get.

Anyway, this led to a discussion of life-changing moments. All our lives are full of little crossroads that would send us down different paths: John eats a bad curry and gets a dodgy stomach, so doesn’t go out to the concert were he would have met his perfect woman/man/hermaphrodite; Cindy’s alarm clock fails to go off and she misses the job interview that would have seen her become the most powerful woman in Auchtermuchty, holding dominion over 2,000 souls and the wee shop that sells tartan tea towels; Alfie sees a swallow, decides it is spring, takes a more scenic route to work and is promptly squashed by a number 54 bus, which at least has the benefit of providing a talking point for the bored commuters being ferried to their dull office jobs.

Most of the time we don’t notice these moments as they slip by or we don’t appreciate quite how much they would change or lives – well, except for Alfie, assuming he had enough time to think more than “Shiiiiiitttttteeeeeeee!!!!” before the driver was trying to clean his brains off the windscreen with the window wipers. I actually do have a moment from which I can clearly trace a path to where I am now.

It is 1992. I am 21 and sitting upstairs in the Horseshoe bar in Glasgow with my relatively new work colleagues from Linn Products – the high end music system company. I have taken a job stuffing components into circuit boards after dropping out of university due to a combination of factors, including laziness, poverty and a lack of self-esteem. The job is boring, but the people are great and my immediate boss is the exact double of Zelda from the Terrahawks, which somehow makes it more bearable. I have no clear idea of what I am going to do next. I am just content to be making some money to spend on records, booze and chemicals.

I am a terrible singer, but have glugged down just the right number of beers to be cajoled into singing on the Karaoke machine. I elect to sing ‘Gloria’ by Van Morrison, partly because I love Van the Man, but also because it is a shouty song and therefore suits my singing voice. My performance is what you would expect. Even above my amplified screams I can hear giggles and abuse. I content myself by spraying the ungrateful buggers with spittle every time I shout ‘G-L-O-R-I-A’.

Finally it is over, and I return to the table. Callum, who runs the test department - which comprises three or four guys whose diplomas from Cardonald College give them a faint air of superiority over the plebs – comes over and demands to buy me a drink. He is a huge Van Morrison fan, and wants to congratulate me on my performance (he is very, very drunk). We get even more drunk and talk about Van Morrison for an hour, then move onto other things, such as the fact I had finished 2.5 years of Physics at Strathclyde University. Callum and I become work buddies, and within three weeks he asks if I would want to go back to university to study electronics, with the fees paid by Linn (I had lost my right to fee payment in 2nd and 3rd year by dropping out). Of course I say yes. I go to Glasgow University, get my degree and promptly show my gratitude to Linn and Callum by going off to work for OKI in Cumbernauld.

So, here’s the chain of events leading to now:

I sing a Van Morrison song in a bar, and as a result get friendly with Callum. Consequently, I go back to University and get a degree. My degree gets me a job at OKI, where I meet Andy McVeigh. I rent a room in his flat. In a casual discussion one day, I tell Andy I used to fence. He gets all keen and says he wants to start it (Andy is a major womaniser, despite being bald since 19 and looking kind of like a turtle, and is sure he can get some action at fencing). I am not so keen, remembering how angry/upset I used to get when I lost at competitions, but he persuades me to come along with him. We join Glasgow West End Fencing Club, where I drink a lot, make some great friends and kind of fence. This goes on for six years, until I am just about to quit fencing because it has lost its appeal. Then Nats joins Glasgow West. After some ups and downs, we get together. She is going to Bosnia for a year, and after a few months decide we are in love, are going to get married and that I am coming to Banja Luka, the capital of Bosnia's Serb Republic. I sell my house and car and go to Bosnia, where I trade in my soldering iron for a notebook and pen. We move to Hungary after a year, and I start to work for the German Press Agency. Four years later, I apply to get transferred to Nairobi, and we move. Nats gets pregnant, and along comes Charlotte.

So, there you go. If it weren’t for a drunken decision to sing a certain song in a certain bar, I would not have gone back to fencing and met the only perfect match for me out there, I would not have the gorgeous little Charlotte, I would not be a journalist, and would not be living in Kenya. All pretty big consequences for one little song, which I am now very glad I sang.

I would love to know if anybody else has a moment like that they can pin down. If so, leave a comment or send me a private message with your story.

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