Friday, November 13, 2009

Z-Bomb Casualty

My "talking to strangers" thing has rather unexpected consequences.

5th of September, 2009. I've just attended an event so geeky that I can barely bring myself to speak of it, but it's enough to say that very few women were in attendance, and that it was held in the basement of London's Hilton Metropol. The Hilton Metropol, as the name suggests, is one of the capital's chicest and most modern hotels-cum-conference-centres; the basement, as the name suggests, indicates that the management doesn't see Our Sort of Person as being a desirable customer. We can be there, if we pay. But we probably shouldn't hang around on the upper floors, in much the same way that Mutts shouldn't try to enter Skybases.

But it's eleven o'clock at night, and I'm on my way home, and I'm slightly tipsy. And I'm standing on the pavement outside the main entrance to the Metropol, finding my bearings in the night air, or at least trying to remember which way the nearest tube station is. I've just about figured it out when I realise that a second individual is hovering a couple of yards away from me. He, too, is standing quite still. But whereas I'm turning my head from side to side, considering the "this way might be quickest" and "this way is slightly longer but leads to savaloys and chips" option, this other man is… really still. So I have to admit, it's rather impressive. He's young, black, well-dressed (leather coat over a suit, which is a little obvious for my tastes, but so easy to pull off that you can tell he's thought this through), with a close-shaved head and dark glasses. He remains still as I notice him: so still, in fact, that it looks as if he's been superimposed onto the background. Admittedly, I've spent the day amongst nerds, but even so… even so, he looks as if he doesn't quite belong in this picture. In earlier times, I would've sworn that he'd been CSO'd onto London, a bit like a puppet dinosaur.

And I'm rather drunk.

'Excuse me,' I find myself saying to him. 'Are you real?'

He tilts his head towards me, puzzled, but doesn't speak a word. I find myself staring into the blackness of designer shades. At night? Who the Hell wears designer shades at night…?

Suddenly, it clicks. Or I think it does.

'Oh!' I say, rather too enthusiastically. 'Are you a bodyguard?' This would explain so much: very rich people stay in the upper reaches of this hotel, and his absolute calm gives him the air of a Beefeater gone "urban". I'm convinced that this is a reasonable explanation.

'No,' he tells me, flatly. 'I'm Jay-Z.'

Hmm. Instinctively, I find myself squinting, because that's what I do when I try to access my long-term memory (yeah, it's an affectation, because that's what we used to imagine future-androids doing when they were calculating things). Now, I gave up on pop music in 2001, and I've only skimmed its surface since: those who ever read the Top Forty Countdown will know that it was the work of someone who just saw bits rather than involving himself. All I remember of Jay-Z is a record that sampled the "Hard-Knock Life" song from Annie in the early 2000s, yet I've seen his name reported in so many "entertainment news bulletins" since then that I know he must be a big player these days. (Since this encounter, I've realised how big. Alan Yentob's documentary about him was broadcast a week later.) What can I say, though?

The answer is, as ever, to slip into hyper-English.

'Ahhh,' I tell him. 'You're that rap fellah I've been hearing about.' (N.B. Yes, I'm afraid I actually say "fellah".) 'Well… I'm afraid I don't know much about your kind of music. But I've heard good things. So… I hope you enjoy our country.' And I bow politely, like a German prince in a Technicolor adventure-movie about Old Ruritania.

Jay-Z is obviously not familiar with this genre, and remains puzzled-looking, although a slight furrowing of his brow suggests that he's wondering if some bizarre British custom requires him to bow back. I hurriedly turn around and huffle off, instinctively choosing the "savaloy and chips" route.

I'm halfway along the street, towards the corner around which pasties lie, when I hear an angry shout of 'HEY!' from behind me.

I turn. Storming towards me, alone but taking up the full width of the pavement, is a man with none of the still superiority of Mr Z. Also black, also with hewn follicles, but middle-aged and with the sense that he makes up for in width what he lacks in height. He pumps his muscular arms back and forth as he approaches my frozen mass. This doesn't look like a bodygaurd; it looks like the kind of person who might be a shady friend of a bodyguard, but who specialises in dumping things in the river. In concrete boots.

Actually, I'm wrong here. He's a member of the hotel's security staff, who wastes no time in charging up to me and informing me that the police will be called if I "harass" the hotel's clientele again. Under his suit, his muscles twitch in such a way as to suggest that "police" is a euphemism.

There are many things I could - maybe should - have said at this juncture. I could have pointed out that I'd been talking to complete strangers in his previous hotel all day; that I'd met a man in the lift who'd been so harried while coming down from the "posh" levels that I'd helped him to carry his luggage to his car in the basement; that I'd had a long and interesting conversation with two female patrons of the Metropol in the hotel bar, about the effect of cinema on 1930s European art; that on at least two occasions that day, I'd pointed guests to either the toilets or the lifts in a generally altruistic way. Alternatively, I could have questioned the idea that he might call the police to deal with someone who was walking away from the hotel and clearly going home. I could have asked whether all the hotel's guests - including, to an extent, myself - were protected by this over-zealous security service, or just the famous ones. And yet, confused by the last few minutes' worth of information, what I actually say to him is: 'Flaaah baah-baah fuff. Naaah… ruh bububububuh buhhh.'

The security guard informs me that this doesn't matter (implying that he understood what I was saying, which is more than I did). He repeats his warning. I let my mouth open and close for a while, then decide to go 'pwuuuuh' and turn away.

At the corner, the stupidity of all this finally dawns on me. I pause in mid-step. Did that just happen?

I look over my shoulder. I'm now some distance from the security guard, who's schlomping his way back to the hotel, presumably to tell Jay-Z how good he is at scaring off stalkers (especially if they're already moving in the right direction). Yet through either chance or paranoia, I turn around at exactly the moment that the guard looks over his shoulder. Seeing that I've stopped, he swivels on his foot, and begins following me up the road again. This time, he's swinging his arms in deliberate mimicry of a bipedal rhino, making it clear that he'll bloody thump me if I don't stop bothering the paving-stones where his celebrity charge happens to be.

I look down, and shake my head incredulously. Partly because this is how I actually feel, but mainly because I sense that he'll get less of a kick out of beating up a sad-looking intellectual.

Around the corner, once the guardian has left me alone, I find a shop that sells food. Not actually savaloys, but things that can be heated up in an on-site microwave, plus the Lucozade I'm going to need quite soon. The proprietor of the shop seems rather hip, in terms of modern pop-culture: I judge this from the fact that when I walk in, he's doing that friendly knuckle-knock with a local Hoodie.

After the Hoodie leaves, I take my foodstuffs to the counter. While the shopkeeper's entering them into the till, I say to him: 'You know that Jay-Z?'

'Oh, yeah,' he says.

'Is he actually… any good?'

He looks non-committal, even as he's running the Lucozade over the digi-gizmo that reads barcodes. 'Yeah,' he says, not quite sounding convinced. 'Yeah, he's okay. He's married to that Beyonce, isn't he?'

Is he? I didn't know that, but there's a special irony here. You may recall that I said I gave up on pop music in 2001, and one of the key reasons for this retreat was that the mode of the age turned out to be the hideous squawking noise made by Destiny's Child. The first time I heard "Single Ladies" (which, I've been informed, is the most 2009 thing made in 2009… this is why I'm insisting on living in the past), I was at the rear part of a department store, and I literally ran a hundred yards to the exit in order to get away from it. No, I'm not exaggerating. It's like having nanites build cheese-graters inside your inner ear.

I share this overall sentiment with the hip shopkeeper.

'Hah,' he says. 'Good job you didn't say that to Jay-Z. Then the security guy would've really done you over.'

Which, I suppose, is true.

I can at least find a certain satisfaction in the thought that I was the one who asked Jay-Z whether he was real; furthermore, I might claim bonus points for talking to the man as if I were Jon Pertwee. But on getting home that night, I rang my ex-girlfriend, thinking that this would be a grade-A ;pop-culture anecdote. It turned out that on this particular evening, she was in her flat with another of her ex-boyfriends (one with whom I went to college, although the Venn diagram is too complex to bother with here), and both of them seemed rather unimpressed. Why…? Because, as he wasted no time in informing me, the ex-boyfriend in question is going to be an extra in the remake of Clash of the Titans. I didn't even know there was going to be a remake of Clash of the Titans, but my rapper-irritating antics are surely less impressive than this. We nerds know our priorities.

So I'll just say this. I spent the next few days in a colossal sulk, not because of Jay-Z or because of the Clash of the Titans thing, but because I couldn't stop thinking of that poxy security guard. If you read this blog-site quite often, then you may remember how insulted I felt after I was given the brush-off by Ian Levine: again, not because I desperately wanted to know such a person, but because of a level of rudeness I find unconscionable. He simply refused to speak to me, apparently because he thought I wanted something from him, when in fact I was just going to say "we're completely mismatched, but hi". Likewise, the security guard shoved a spike through a certain delicate part of my dignity, not only because of the stupidest threat ever issued - "you're walking away, so I'm going to call you back and say that you should walk away or I'll call the police to make you walk away" - but because h genuinely thought I knew and cared who Jay-Z was. What, do I look like I've got too much testosterone and a barely-concealed misogynist streak…?

Plus, I've been singing "It's a Hard-Knock Life" ever since. But the hook is technically from a musical, so he can't claim any credit.

Yep, I was right all the time. People with power are hideous, but worse still are the people who hang around near people with power: once again, I remember Paul Cornell haranguing me because of the way my "followers" were behaving on the internet (this was before I even had access to the internet, you understand), and his sheer lack of comprehension when I told him that I didn't want to have any followers. We can all learn lessons here, not least because some of the silliest behaviour amongst Doctor Who tribes over the last twenty years has been a result of acting like an offensive security guard. Paul? This isn't a feudal state where you have to "bend the knee" to the most popular writers, so stop it. Moffat? You're not going to make any interesting TV by sucking up to a big gay producer or by supplying fangirls with things that might make them go squidgey for you, so stop it. Jon Blum? You're not going to get hired by the TV series by defending every single thing BBC Wales does, so stop it. No, really, stop it. You sound like an arse, and everybody's laughing at you behind your back. And me in 1999…? You're not going to get into telly by lying to people who write terrible fiction, so stop it. Oh, you did. Good. You don't have to positively insult them, mind you, but… no, whatever you like. All power is rubbish.

In Doctor Who, of course, all security guards are idiots (except for the one in "Dragonfire", who's deliberately ironic). Yet that doesn't stop us being more like them then the "nice" characters. Elsewhile, Jay-Z himself appeared at a 9/11 Memorial Concert less than a week after our encounter, during which he encouraged the crowd to 'make some noise' for the dead of the terrorist attacks. Jesus, what a twat! Now I wish I had harassed him.

I don't think you're ready for this jelly.