There are 516 official fears in the dictionary; I mean words that end in “phobia”. My favourite is “hippopotomonstrosequippedaliophobia” – which is the fear of long words.
My second favourite is “arachibutyrophobia” – the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth.
Some of our fears are entirely rational, of course. I remember going fishing for pike on the Union Canal when I was 13 years old. As I walked across the bridge with my rod in my hand, an older boy stepped out in front of me. He asked me for the time. My hackles went up, I couldn’t tell you why. All of a sudden I didn’t feel safe. Adrenaline flooded my body, the fight or flight response. But instead of turning tail, I made myself as big as possible, pushed him hard in the chest and told him to eff off. As I moved past him, I glanced to my left. Hiding under the bridge were two more lads. One of them had a foot-long kitchen knife in his hand.
On another solitary fishing trip, this time along the Water of Leith at Balerno, I was walking through a caravan park when a ferocious yowling started up behind me. I froze and turned. A collie dog was belting towards me, its lips pulled back over its gums, its teeth bared, its ears flat against its head. I took off, feeling my mouth go dry with fear as my legs pumped hard. I turned and realised the dog was gaining on me. I raced up a railway embankment and stopped. I picked up two or three big rocks. I threw one. It went wide and the dog kept coming. My second rock struck it in the ribs and that was enough. The dog fled.
These moments of terror pale into insignificance compared to the way my Dad felt in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis when the Soviet Union threatened to site nuclear missiles in Cuba, just across the water from the US. President Kennedy decided to face down this threat. His opposite number in the Kremlin, Nikita Kruschev, stood his ground. For a day or two, the world hung on the brink of all-out nuclear war and my dad told me he went in to work that morning wondering if he’d ever see his wife or family again. That’s how terror-stricken the world had become.
Fear can easily turn into paranoia. My wife used to work for a global advertising network called Interpublic. A year after 9/11, all 20,000 staff were given a red emergency bag. Printed on it were the words “Interpublic Preparedness”. Inside the bag was a mask, a torch, a whistle, a couple of pouches of purified drinking water and an emergency survival blanket.
Americans seem to suffer from paranoia more than any other nation. Go on YouTube and type “bug-out bag” into the Search box. Any number of videos will pop up featuring paranoid young American males showing you what’s in their special emergency bag. As well as the usual dried food and matches, these guys have all sorts of handguns, bows and arrows, hunting knives and trip wires. They can’t properly explain why they need these things.
I feel lucky. Nothing much frightens me these days. Except earwigs. Don’t get me started on earwigs.
Brilliant Bruce is still the Boss of the stage
I walked out of a Patti Smith concert once. It was at the height of punk. She had an ego the size of a whale and a nasty streak. One fan in the front row tried to touch her boot and she kicked him hard in the mouth. That was enough for me. It’s still the worst gig I’ve ever been to. She couldn’t play the guitar to save herself.
Some of my favourites were the gigs that cost me nothing. In the mid-1980s, Tiffany’s Ballroom in Stockbridge was the place to go. We saw the Boomtown Rats, The Pretenders, Elvis Costello, The Stranglers and Eddie and The Hot Rods all in the space of six months. We didn’t pay a penny. We used to pogo through the side-door where the roadies unloaded the amps and the lighting rigs, straight on to the dance floor.
The band that made me dance the most were the Buena Vista Social Club. There were 15 of them and their average age was 70. They were all wearing suits, shirts and ties. They looked a bunch of bank managers on a night out but they moved in a non-stop rhythm, swaying their artificial hips like hula-girls. Out in front was the only female. She had more curves then the Cote d’Azur coast road and more wiggles than a tequila worm.
I’ve seen Ray Charles in a big white tent on the outskirts of Rome, rocking on his piano stool with the Harlettes doo-wopping behind him. I’ve seen Ella Fitzgerald, with a voice like a musical instrument, burning through the classic American songbook with Duke Ellington and the Count Basie Orchestra. I’ve seen Tom Jones and Bryan Ferry rocking the Castle Esplanade. I’ve seen Van Morrison in a bad mood, with his back to the audience all night but it didn’t matter because he still has more soul in his little finger than any of today’s X Factor finalists.
But I’ve yet to see anybody beat The Boss, Bruce Springsteen. He came on stage at the Playhouse at the peak of his powers, the E-Street Band turned up to 11 behind him, Nils Lofgren on guitar doing mid-air somersaults. He played for two hours then went off. People clapped and stomped but he wouldn’t come back. We started to get our coats on. Suddenly the theatre was plunged into darkness. Then the stage lights blazed up again and there they were, dressed in suits, playing the opening riff from Born To Run. Bruce sang himself hoarse for another two hours!
What’s the best gig you have ever been to? Send us your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org marked ‘Best Gigs’. We’ll shell out a couple of Embra gig tickets for the best one.
SAVOURY ISN’T SWEET
Who invented the Hawaiian pizza? A savoury feast ruined by pineapple chunks. And gammon with half a cling peach? Get a grip! I can’t be doing with schizophrenic food. But I’ll try anything once so I was delighted to sample my Hungarian mother-in-law’s special “szilvas gomboc” – dumplings rolled in breadcrumbs, served as a main course. Imagine my horror when inside the mashed potato exterior was a hot, sweet plum. Oi, Hungary, noooooooo!