Did you ever have one of those conversations where you suddenly felt very old?
Let me give you an example.
Shortly after I started working for an insurance company in Cardiff, about 20 years ago now, I found myself as an Acting Team Leader on the Teleclaims section; “Acting” because the actual Team Leader had gone on long term sick, and they didn’t want to actually promote me in her absence because that would have meant paying me more.
The Teleclaims section was the first point of contact should you ever need to make a claim. Or, if you wanted to find out what was going on with your claim. In the latter case, it was an unwritten rule that you should never bother the person actually dealing with the claim. I was rather good at this; I’d have a quick read of the file whilst the caller was on hold, then call the handler, ask them if I was right about where I thought the claim was at, then reassure them I wasn’t going to put the caller through, I’d get rid of them myself. 9 times out of 10 I’d be successful, and I quickly got myself a reputation as “the bloke who never makes handlers talk to customers.” My popularity burgeoned.
It was for this reason, I think, that I found the title of Acting Team Leader foisted upon me. But now my job had changed; now I spent most of my time shouting at people to answer the phones rather than actually answering them myself, or, quite often, taking complaint calls and politely explaining to the caller why they were wrong.
See, I’m not really management material. But on the occasions when I’ve found myself in vaguely managerial positions throughout my working life, I’ve been a firm believer in leading by example. Don’t ask others to do things you aren’t prepared to do yourself, is my motto. In fact, one job I did ended rather abruptly, shortly after I confronted a manager who had told me to “Do as I say, not as I do,” and I told him he was a twat.
So when I was an Assistant Supervisor at Boots (check me out with all my not-quite-boss credentials), I felt awkward telling other people slightly further down the food chain than I to jump on the tills when it was busy, so I’d often do it myself. Then there could be no arguments when I did tell someone to do it. Plus, I got to have a nice sit down.
Anyway, back to the insurance company. It’s busy, and I decide to answer a few calls, one of which involves a policyholder whose name is Paul Newman.
Call completed, I, of course, cannot resist making a comment about having just spoken to Paul Newman to the folks around me. Not a particularly funny comment, I’ll grant you (although that was definitely the intent) but one which I thought would gain a reaction from somebody.
Instead, I was met with blank looks.
“Y’know. Paul Newman.”
More blank looks.
“The actor. The very famous actor,” I semi-pleaded.
A bale of hay blows through.
“Makes salad dressing…..?” I offered.
A wave of recognition.
And that’s how you know when you’re getting old. When somebody you know for doing the main thing they’re famous for is known by young people for doing something less significant. I now refer to it as “having a Paul Newman moment.”
To apply this to a musical setting: a few years later, I’m still working for the same company, but I’ve progressed. I now deal with potentially expensive claims, where people (say that) they’ve been injured in an accident with someone we insure. I find myself sitting next to a lad who has been transferred from a different office. Usual in-between work banter occurs, and it transpires we have a lot in common in terms of musical taste. (Later nights out would reveal that he also rather liked taking pills; needless to say, we got on very well. Also needless to say, for the very same reason, I’m not going to mention his real name.)
Steve. Let’s call him Steve.
In one of our we-really-should-be-working-but-nobody’s-checking-what-we’re-doing chats, Steve revealed that he really liked The Automatic, a somewhat perfunctory Welsh indie band, best remembered for their single Monster. Credit where credit’s due, though: our conversation took place before they’d had any hits (if indeed their hit count extends into plurals). But he had one gripe with the band: he hated the additional vocals which Alex Pennie often provided, finding them obtrusive and annoying.
“A bit like Einar from The Sugarcubes, then?” I offered.
Cue the blank looks from “Steve”.
“You know. Einar. From the Sugarcubes.”
More blank looks.
“Used to pop up in the middle of every Sugarcubes song, and just start shouting pseudo-avant garde nonsense?”
Is it me, or is it getting warm in here?
Turns out, in musical terms, you know you’re old when you know the name of somebody in The Sugarcubes who wasn’t Bjork. And some of their records.
Like this one:
And, making a second appearance in as many posts, here’s a different song with the same title:
And just to tie things up neatly, here’s a song by The Automatic which isn’t Monster and which isn’t the best example of a song which features Pennie’s irritating backing vocals. It is, however, a song about a sandwich shop in Cardiff, and I rather like it for that at least:
More soon (football permitting).