So, being an unashamed plagiarist, I thought I'd do exactly the same thing. What subject could I possibly write about in detail that could be interesting and insightful? Well, I thought a night in a Social Club in the North East may be useful to some of you.
Working class people, what they think about advertising and the things that interest them.
The following is all real...
I get out of the taxi and give the racist taxi driver the £2.80 it costs from the station. According to him he's "not racist, but" those foreigners are making his job harder. I try and give my side of the story, but it sounds like a politician shouting at a guest on Jeremy Kyle so I shut up and bite my lip.
Outside the club there are a few people smoking. They're called 'tabs' up here and they're very popular. Forget your Marlboro Lights, it's all about the Benson & Hedges and the Lambert & Butler up here. I overhear them slurring through a conversation about the football earlier that day. Predictably, their team has been beaten (regardless whether it's Hartlepool ('Pools'), Newcastle ('Tha Toon'), Sunderland ('mackems') or Middlesgrough ('The Boro')), but they're blaming the referee and the foreign players of their own team.
I go in, scribble a completely illegible name in the visitors book, and disguise the fact that I only drop about 8p into the contributions box.
I walk straight upstairs. Upstairs is where the action is on a weekend. It's where the 'turn' will be on. Downstairs I can see blokes playing snooker and dominoes, laughing and moaning in equal measure at each other. At the top of the stairs the same bloke sits in the same seat giving out the tickets to the turn. It's always a piece of card with a stamp on it, and you pick one of those up if you go back downstairs after the turn have started. It's so you can get back in.
Getting in the function room costs £2. Sometimes it even goes up to £4. That'll get you two 'spots' of about 45 minutes each, although if there are people up dancing at 11pm they'll keep going on a little bit longer. And there are always people dancing, because they've been on the Carling for 4 hours by then.
I walk into the function room. It's a bit musty, it's buzzing with chatter and it feels too big without the plume of tab smoke that used to grace it every weekend before smoking was banned inside.
It's 100% white working class. There is no-one here from a different racial background, and no-one I recognise as anything other than blue collar, working class people. A tattoo audit would be interesting - you can tell the age of people by their tattoos. A swallow means they're in their 50s, a celtic band means they're in their 20s and dots on the knuckles means they've probably just got out from a ten-stretch.
I look over at the same spot my dad has sat at since I can remember and he's there waving at me. I walk over.
"Now then son. I've saved you a seat."
"Thanks dad. It's busy tonight isn't it?"
"Aye. Good turn tonight son. That's why I got in early. How was the match?"
"Shite. We were crap, the fans were crap and the referee was crap. Everyone's blaming [foreign player], but they were all crap, dad. We could have played for 90 days and not scored. Anyway... do you want a pint?"
"No thanks son, I'll get the drinks for me and Linda. We're in our own round."
"I don't mind getting you a pint just to say hello dad..."
"No thanks son."
I walk to the bar. The bar in the social club is interesting. They have some football terracing next to the bar, and there's a queuing system. No pushing happens and everyone waits their turn patiently. These are people that savour their drink, and they may be hard people, people who have grafted, but on the whole they're very well mannered. Especially when it comes to queuing for drink. I get the the bar and I ask for a pint of Ruby Red. That's the local ale. A pint is poured via a button. There's no pumps here, just buttons. It stops people thinking they've been given a short measure and it allows the managers to keep tabs on stock. A pint of Ruby Red is £1.86. The prices are never rounded up to the 5p or 10p mark like they are down south, so you end up with a pocket full of shrapnel (or 'slag') by the end of the night.
I get my pint and walk back to the table. I'm sat between my dad and his mates.
"Son, you remember Billy and Tony don't you?"
"Yeah, course I do. How are you lads?"
"Not bad thanks son. Long time since we seen you. How are things down in London?"
"Yeah good. Work is busy so that's good, but the recession has been bad. Budgets are cut, some clients are taking the piss... but what can you do?"
"I know son... so what is it you do again?"
"I work for an advertising company. I deal with the strategy."
"So you design telly adverts?"
"Sort of. I help other people design them. I think about why we're doing stuff, and who we want to buy the stuff..."
"... and then you design the telly advert?"
"... yeah. Something like that."
"It must be a hard job, there are only so many adverts on telly."
"Yeah, true. We also do press advertising - adverts in papers, and out-of-ho... billboard ads as well."
"So you do it all then?"
"Well, sort of. The stuff you see and know as advertising, yeah. There's loads of other stuff you probably don't notice or remember... we do that as well."
"Why would you do stuff I can't remember?"
"Well, I try to do stuff you'll remember, but some channels are more effective..."
"Channel 4 and ITV, like?"
"Sorry, no, we say 'channels' but that's a term we use to talk about the different ways we can talk to a consumer. Like the paper, or a billboard, or a website - they're different channels... oh, and I meant 'talk with' the consumer, not 'talk to' - it's all about engaging people these days."
"Like a questionnaire, like?"
"Sometimes... erm... can you remember the last time you went to ASDA and there was some woman giving out free bits of cheese?"
"Aye. They were doing it last time I was there."
"Well that's called sampling. As well as trying the cheese, a good agency would have briefed the woman to talk to you in a particular way, saying particular things... hmmm, but then, thinking about it, they may not allow agency staff in there... they may only allow their staff to do the sampling..."
"... anyway. Do you remember what cheese it was?"
"Brand? Haven't a clue. I think our lass bought some though because it was on offer."
"Well they're hoping that you'll eat the cheese, like it, and then see other advertising in different ways so that the brand is in the front of your mind..."
"... aye... erm... how much is it for a pint down in London then?"
"haha... depends where you go. Some places it's about £3.80 for a pi..."
"Here - did you hear that? It's £3.80 a pint in London."
"... yeah but in some places you can get a decent pint for about £2.20."
"Here - did you hear that? You can get a pint for £2.20 in London..."
"Talking of a pint - would you lads like one?"
"No thanks son, we're in our own round."
"I don't mind buying you one, it's been a while since we chatted."
"No thanks son, we'll stick to our own..."
A voice comes over the PA system when I'm walking to the bar. It's Davey the bingo caller. He checks with the other staff members in different parts of the club - upstairs and downstairs - that the PA system is working properly before they start the bingo.
There's a 'flyer' before the turn, then the main game during the first and second spots. The flyer is a tenner for a line and £15 full house. Everyone keeps quiet while the bingo is on. As I learned when I was here as an underaged teen, you simply do not make noise when the bingo is on. It's very serious. All the women play, some of the men play. Most have their special bingo pen called a dabber, and most have 5 games on the go at once. During the game they contribute wolf whistles when number 11 is called, and some boo when it's "Brown's Den, number ten." Some of the women on my table get close to winning. They're 'sweating' on one number. Typically, just as they say that we hear a "Hold on Davey!" from the bar downstairs. Someone has won the line for a tenner. People chat amongst themselves while Davey checks the numbers. The women moan about how their luck is out recently, and the men talk about the upcoming turn: "They're good like, but the lead guitarist is a bit of a show-off. They'd be better without the leather jeans and perms, like..."
The line is followed by a full house from someone upstairs, more moaning ensues, and the lights dim for the turn. My dad always gets a fresh pint in before the turn starts, not because he drinks a lot, but he likes to study the turn. He still plays social club gigs with his new band, but his heyday was in the 70s and 80s when he was in a band called Stage Fright. I used to watch them when I was a kid. My dad plays bass but he loves music as a whole. That's where I get my love for music from.
There's a spurt from a smoke machine, and the turn come on stage to a backing track that says they're the best rock band playing in social clubs at the moment. The backing track ends when the keyboard player presses stop on the tape deck on his keyboard and they launch straight into 'Living on a Prayer.' Dad and me shout into each others ears some comments about the band. Some I hear and give my input, some I don't hear and simply nod.
The turn plays a selection of classic rock songs and some new stuff. They sound better when they play Journey and Free, but they think they sound better when they play Kings of Leon and The Killers. Dad was right, they'd be better if they didn't show off so much.
Some people get tupperware boxes out from their handbags, or from a carrier bag. They'll have pickled onions, some cubes of cheese and maybe some black pudding cut up. They'll have bought it from ASDA, or it'll be home made. On their table they'll have an informal rota to decide who brings the food in each week. They'll sit there supping a pint, munching on pickled onions watching the turn. I get jealous every week.
At about the same time, the 'fish man' comes in. This is the same bloke that comes in every week. The first time I saw him I was 15 years old. When I was about 18 I told dad I thought he looked like Charles Bronson, so that's what we've both been calling him since. He sells tubs of prawn cocktail and ocean pinks. The big spenders go for real shellfish and opt for a crabs claw. I steer clear. There's something I don't trust about fish from a bloke delivering it in a basket to a social club.
I go to the bar just before the first spot ends. Some bloke in the queue asks me what I think of the band.
"Not bad. They nailed "Don't Stop Believin'"
"They're shite. The singer is an arsehole..."
"... aye, there is that, like."
I sit down with my pint to watch the last ten minutes of the first spot. When they finish, the Concert Chairman turns the lights up and talks on the PA. He asks us to show our appreciation. Most people clap politely, some clap because they really do like the band, some people start getting their bingo books out. It's fast approaching the highlight of their night. The 'main book.'
At this point, dad asks Linda if she wants another brandy and coke before we go downstairs. Dad usually buys her two brandies for one half of coke, and she has half left so she's ok. Plus, she just wants rid of us really, so she can concentrate on her bingo.
A mass exodus happens. Most of the men leave the room. pick up a piece of card from the bloke outside and go downstairs to the bar. It's the same every week. During the 20 minute interval, the women (and some men) play bingo, and the men all go downstairs to the bar. It's the only part of the building where the bingo audio isn't pumped into. Some people pop outside for a tab while I grab a table. It's all pretty laid back - we sit and chat about the turn.
The speed of the drinking increases a bit when we're in the bar. We're out of vision of the women, so the men can neck a pint or two without getting evil stares. The level of swearing increases too.
Swearing is a strange one. Everyone uses mild swear words, but no-one ever uses 'cunt.' There are a lot of 'bollocks,' 'shite' and 'shit' but people usually refrain from 'fucking' but I don't think I've ever heard anyone use the word 'cunt' in all the years I've been coming.
We finish our second pint and head back upstairs just before the turn comes on for their second spot. No-one on our table won the bingo. It was "that bloody woman that always wins" that won. She always wins. Dad gets Linda a brandy and a coke before the second spot.
The second spot is always about 20% good rock songs, and about 80% shite ballads to get the women up dancing. That's the strategy of the band: get the women up dancing and the men have to follow suit. It's accepted amongst the men that you have to dance to keep the women happy, so they all reach an unwritten rule not to take the piss out of each other. It needs to be done, so let's get it over with and then sit down and talk about the football.
I stay seated, sing along to the songs I like and tap my foot along to the ones I don't but are catchy.
At 10:45 the lights flash and it's last orders. People flood to the bar. Dad stops dancing with Linda and gets a fresh pint for him and another brandy for Linda - she still has half her coke left.
One last song - usually 'I'd do anything for love (but I won't do that)' by Meatloaf and the Concert Chairman is on the PA asking us to show our appreciation. The women scream and shout for more - the brandy has well and truly kicked in - and the men edge back to their seats. Before they can get there, the band launch into 'Angels' by Robbie Williams, and the men feel obliged to dance again.
After Angels, the lights come on, the women scream for more and the men sit down. After a minute of screaming, the women amble back to the table. The lights are up now and people sit down to finish their drinks before going home.
People approach my dad and refer to him by his school nickname 'Tatty.' They ask him how he's doing and they agree the turn were OK but would be better without the showing off.
We finish our drinks quickly - the taxi will be outside.
We step outside into the cold northern air. You can see your breath and you start shaking immediately. Of course you don't say you're cold - you take it like a man.
Dad walks up to the 3 yellow cabs that are parked up asking which is ours. The last one is. We get in - dad in the front and Linda and me in the back. My dad starts the Taxi patter immediately:
"Busy night mate?"
"No. Shite. The town's dead. No one's got any money."
"What time do you finish?"
"I was supposed to finish about 3 or 4 in the morning, but I may finish soon. There's no point carrying on if there's no-one out down town."
All I can think about is some food. The beer has caught up with now and I'm ready for bed.
The taxi pulls up and my dad has the correct change ready - he's a regular Saturday night customer. We all say goodnight to the taxi driver, get out and get into the house. Dad puts the kettle on for a nice cup of tea and I raid the fridge for the pease pudding...