December 01, 2004

Social absurdity

When I was living in Newcastle some years ago, I used to go and watch Hartlepool United play on a Saturday afternoon and would take a rickety train, not unlike the one that goes to Oban, down the County Durham coast. It would arrive at a station with only one accessible platform, which did not prevent the announcer stating that trains would be arriving "at platform one" as if there was anywhere else it could possibly go.

I would alight, go out of the station past a chip shop (presumably not the one where Peter Mandelson apocryphally mistook mushy peas for guacamole) and arrive on a deserted high street. It was reminiscent of a Western, like High Noon when the train has arrived at the station and the streets are empty because the bad guys are on their way: the wind blew rubbish, instead of the dust of the desert, down the street, and one could easily imagine the flapping of saloon doors. Especially as the pubs were the only places anybody seemed to be.

One of these pubs had been renamed The Office. After very brief reflection one assumed that this was in order to facilitate a little joke: when drinking there it would be possible to phone home and say "sorry I'm late dear, I'm still at the office".

It's hard to see how this joke was considered amusing for much longer than it took to think it up, but from little acorns great rebranding exercises grow, and hence this witticism was imposed in physical form on the good people of Hartlepool. It was harmless enough, its lasting effects presumably limited to earning an unearned bonus for somebody two hundred miles to the South.

I left the North-East nearly three years ago and forgot all about The Office, or would have done had I not spotted one or two other manifestations of the brand in one place or another. Then I was reminded of it in Glasgow city centre last Friday afternoon when making my way towards Queen Street station to catch the Oban train. In one of the gentrified alcoves between Hope Street and George Square I noticed a bar calling itself The Social.

I assumed this joke was along roughly the same lines as the other one. "I've got an appointment at the social." "I had to spend the afternoon down the social." Ribaching stuff, funnier the more people repeat it, funnier still the more times you repeat it yourself.

Or maybe otherwise. Maybe there was something I really didn't like very much about it. The expensive bar that has driven out the sort of pub you could afford to drink in. The expensive clientele that has driven out the sort of people who would have drunk there. The likelihood that the latter sort of people would have been familiar with the social when the former sort would know it only as a place they never had to go to. The feeling that this was all a joke, but not a very nice joke, because the whole joke was that you'd never really be down the actual social. That was for other people. That was for the sort of people who you didn't drink with. That was for the sort of people who used to drink round here and didn't any more. It was a joke made at their expense, by the people who had done well at their expense.

The Office - that was funny for a few seconds at least. But not The Social. Some jokes are never funny from the start.


At December 02, 2004 12:24 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like your blog and I am looking forward to the next instalment.


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